AT&T didn’t have a great 5G story to tell in 2019: It started last year with a massive controversy over its 4G-based “5G Evolution” network, restricted its high band millimeter wave “5G+” network to enterprise customers, and waited until mid-December to debut a 10-city consumer “5G” network using slow, low band spectrum. But as it moves into 2020, the carrier says its 5G strategy “is starting to come into focus more clearly,” as it plans to keep adding low and high band 5G towers in preparation for devices that can actually connect to both of them.
Today, AT&T says that it’s adding 13 additional low band 5G markets this week, including five more cities in California, as well as major population centers in Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio, raising its “5G” market total to 32. Additionally, there are already “very limited” parts of 35 cities with high band “5G+” coverage, such that the total number of states with some type of AT&T 5G coverage will be 25 by week’s end. Washington, D.C. is currently on the “5G but not 5G+” list.
One of AT&T’s key problems is that its 5G service is a question mark in many locations. In cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, Las Vegas, and New York City, the carrier offers both 5G and 5G+ service, though its coverage maps leave the extent of the 5G+ coverage ambiguous. By comparison, the carrier exclusively offers high band 5G+ service in five Texas cities, while only offering low band 5G service in parts of Kansas, Missouri, and New Jersey. None of those states have coverage maps.
Another big issue is AT&T’s lack of 5G handsets. Though the carrier sells phones from 5G device makers such as Samsung and LG, it’s currently only offering a single low band 5G model — the $1,300 Galaxy Note10+ 5G — to consumers, and that phone doesn’t work on AT&T’s 5G+ network. The company has still not commenced consumer sales of the Galaxy S10 5G, the 5G+ phone it offered exclusively to business customers and developers last year.
Thankfully, the handset issue will likely be addressed, if not fully resolved, over the next several weeks. Samsung is expected to announce several new Galaxy S20 5G phones at its Galaxy Unpacked event next week, while other OEMs are working on low and high band-compatible 5G phones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 modem, some of which are scheduled to debut at MWC 2020 in late February. We’ll have to see which devices AT&T chooses to support; hopefully it will have wider and deeper 5G coverage (as well as better maps) to win over customers by then.
AT&T’s current list of 5G and 5G+ cities is as follows:
- AL: Birmingham (5G)
- AZ: Phoenix (5G+)
- CA: Bakersfield (5G), Los Angeles (5G/5G+), Menlo Park (5G+), Modesto (5G), Oakland (5G+), Oxnard (5G), Redwood City (5G+), San Bruno (5G+), San Diego (5G/5G+), San Francisco (5G/5G+), San Jose (5G/5G+), San Luis Obispo (5G), Santa Barbara (5G), West Hollywood (5G+)
- CT: Bridgeport (5G)
- DC: Washington (5G)
- FL: Jacksonville (5G+), Miami (5G+), Miami Gardens (5G+), Orlando (5G+)
- GA: Atlanta (5G+), Liberty (5G)
- IN: Indianapolis (5G/5G+)
- KS: Wichita (5G)
- KY: Louisville (5G/5G+)
- LA: New Orleans (5G+)
- MA: Boston, New Bedford (5G)
- MD: Baltimore (5G+), Frederick (5G), Ocean City (5G+)
- MI: Detroit (5G/5G+)
- MO: St. Louis (5G)
- NC: Charlotte (5G+), Raleigh (5G+)
- NJ: Atlantic City (5G)
- NV: Las Vegas (5G/5G+)
- NY: Buffalo (5G), New York (5G/5G+), Rochester (5G)
- OH: Cleveland (5G+), Dayton (5G)
- OK: Oklahoma City (5G+)
- PA: King of Prussia (5G+), Philadelphia (5G/5G+), Pittsburgh (5G)
- RI: Providence (5G)
- TN: Nashville (5G+)
- TX: Austin (5G+), Dallas (5G+), Houston (5G+), San Antonio (5G+), Waco (5G+)
- WI: Milwaukee (5G)
The carrier says that its low band 5G network currently covers over 50 million people, and remains on track to go nationwide in the first half of 2020. Rival T-Mobile already offers nationwide low band 5G coverage, which notably promises speeds only 20% greater on average than 4G, but is capable of 200-300Mbps peaks under certain conditions in some parts of the country.