Expanding on its earlier plan to launch mobile 5G service in a dozen U.S. cities by the end of 2018, AT&T has named Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco as its first three picks for 5G internet access. Customers in parts of the Georgia and Texas cities “will be the very first to access this next generation of wireless services,” said AT&T senior VP Igal Elbaz. “Our 5G firsts will put our customers in the middle of it all.”
AT&T also announced that it is opening a new 5G lab in another Texas city, Austin, “to help us meet this aggressive timeline for mobile 5G deployment.” The lab will include an outdoor 5G radio environment for testing purposes, letting engineers run stress tests on 5G network equipment and devices before rolling them out to consumers.
Although much of the world is waiting until 2019 to aggressively deploy 5G hardware — and wondering how complete the 5G standard will be — AT&T promises that “2018 will be the year” customers can experience “standards-based, mobile 5G” on its network. The company says that it will begin with devices operating on ultra high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, then expand to additional spectrum bands. Like other carriers on the road to 5G, AT&T says that it is currently deploying new LTE-compatible equipment that can easily be migrated to 5G as soon as faster service is needed.
Last month, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson explained that its initial 5G devices will be “pucks” — mobile hotspots — rather than smartphones, which will be at best hard to find this year. The latest press release suggests that plan hasn’t changed.
“We are working with our vendors on an aggressive schedule to help ensure customers can enjoy 5G when we launch the network this year,” AT&T said today. “We will add more 5G capable mobile devices and smartphones in early 2019 and beyond.”
While today’s news is an exciting and concrete step forward for 5G in the United States, it’s worth underscoring that AT&T’s language hedges a little, saying that its mobile 5G service will be available in “parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco” rather than blanketing each city immediately. The nation’s second-largest carrier says that it will “announce additional cities in the coming months.”