AT&T's 5G network launches for consumers in 10 markets, but don't buy a new 5G phone yet

AT&T's 5G network launches for consumers in 10 markets, but don't buy a new 5G phone yet
By: WNG CNBC Posted On: December 13, 2019 View: 39

AT&T's 5G network launches for consumers in 10 markets, but don't buy a new 5G phone yet

A man checking his phone.

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AT&T announced on Friday that its 5G network is now live in 10 markets, where consumers can now take advantage of faster data speeds than what 4G LTE offers. It's live in Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Providence, R.I., Rochester, N.Y., San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

But you shouldn't buy AT&T's first 5G phone, the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, yet.

AT&T is marketing two different kinds of 5G networks: Its low-band 5G that went live on Friday for regular consumers like you and me. It's marginally faster than today's 4G LTE networks, but it isn't the super-fast 5G you want. That's because there's also AT&T's so-called "5G+" network that first launched in April for corporate clients which uses high-band mmWave technology.

That's the network that offers speeds that are roughly 10 times faster than LTE and that is most compelling, even though mmWave technology doesn't travel far and requires you to be nearby a transmission tower. It works best if you're in a place like a football stadium and not moving around, for example.

But, the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G announced on Friday doesn't support the 5G+ network. It only supports AT&T's slower but more widespread lower-band 5G network. That means you want to wait for a phone that supports both technologies instead of buying what AT&T is offering consumers today.

This is similar to what's going on with T-Mobile and other carriers. On Dec. 6, T-Mobile announced that its low-band 5G network went live for 200 million people around the U.S. But, just like with AT&T, there isn't a phone yet that offers what you really want: support for future low-range, mid-range and mmWave technologies.

AT&T says its 5G network will cover the U.S. in the first half of 2020. The first phones to support both of its technologies, including 5G and 5G+, should be available within that time frame.

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