What is 5G?
5G stands for 5th Generation. It’s the latest wireless standard set to succeed 4G and LTE and, understandably, one of the hottest topics in the mobile industry. Bold claims that it will revolutionize multiple industries are common, but what does it mean for the average consumer?
5G will undoubtedly guarantee faster download and upload speeds. But 5G is not all about speed. Next generation connectivity will accelerate the development of self-driving cars and multiple other futurist technologies. It can help specialist surgeons conduct complex operations from the other side of the world with zero lag. It will drone use and virtual reality the new heights.
The future applications of this new network technology are endless. Yet, what does 5G mean for the average consumer? We’re all excited about faster download speeds, lower latency for faster streaming of higher resolution films, video chat, game streaming on services like Stadia and the Steam Link app and much more. 5G will also enable more devices to be connected at the same time without major slowdown – something that will greatly affect the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart home technology in a positive way.
Of course, we’ll have to wait for 5G smartphones and WiFi 6-equipped hotspots before the technology really starts to have a major impact on our daily lives, but we’re not too far away from the first wave of devices landing in the US.
We thought it was time we took stock of what is going on with 5G in the United States. Starting with an overview of what each major carrier is up to, where they are at with 5G, and when customers can expect to have access to consumer 5G networks.
Although AT&T may have started the 5G hype on the wrong foot with the 5Ge branding debacle, the company is now on the right track. It has declared that it’s the first telco capable of reaching gigabit speeds, achieving the feat using Netgear’s 5G hotspot
AT&T has split its next-generation network technology into three phases. 5G Evolution, or 5Ge, is already live more than 400 markets. Before you get carried away, though, you should know that this is more of a marketing ploy than anything else. AT&T’s 5Ge network enables faster speeds on the carrier’s existing LTE network, but it is far from the fifth generation of networking technology.
The next step is regular 5G. The operator says this it is actively laying the foundation for a nationwide 5G network right now. Alongside the regular 5G, AT&T has what it is calling 5G+. The plus label has been assigned to areas around the country which are expected to provide yet faster 5G service. It is already available in 12 cities and, although the initial launch is modest, AT&T says that speeds, coverage, and devices will improve in 2019 and beyond.
These are the cities in which 5G+ is already available on AT&T:
- FL: Jacksonville
- GA: Atlanta
- IN: Indianapolis
- KY: Louisville
- LA: New Orleans
- NC: Charlotte, Raleigh
- OK: Oklahoma City
- TX: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Waco
If you live in one of the cities listed above, you might be interested in the first mobile 5G device in the US. The Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot is the first commercial device to support 5G+ from AT&T. It uses the millimeter wave spectrum in 5G+ areas and allows you to connect up to 20 devices via Wi-Fi. When you are outside of the 5G+ network, it connects to 5G Evolution (the current LTE network) and it requires a compatible plan.
AT&T recently became the first 5G carrier in the US to reach gigabit speeds
Verizon is making a big deal out of 5G in 2019, calling it the fourth industrial revolution. That is big talk. Just like a lot of the industry, the US carrier promises that 5G will enable giant advances in VR, AR, AI, robotics and lots of completely new technologies.
Verizon has already secured some millimeter wave spectrums and has begun building its network of small cells. The carrier also says it is investing in its deep fiber infrastructure, to strengthen its existing network and “create a solid foundation for 5G”.
5G Home, a kind of ultra-fast internet for your abode, is already available in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento. These are the cities in which 5G+ is already available:
- CA: Los Angeles, Sacramento
- IN: Indianapolis
- TX: Houston
Mobile 5G will launch in parts of Minneapolis and Chicago starting on April 11. Only select parts of the cities will support Verizon’s 5G Ultra WIdeband mobile network at first. In Chicago, areas such as The Loop, the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast will get 5G. In Minneapolis, Downtown and Elliot Park will be the first to connect to the next generation.
Verizon says it will announce 30+ more locations this year, although it’s not clear if that means 30 cities or 30 areas of cities. In Chicago, for example, there are technically five locations where 5G Ultra Wideband is coming.
The first 5G device on Verizon will not be the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G or the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, it will be the Motorola Moto Z3. The 5G support comes courtesy of a $200 Moto Mod. You can also spread the cost of 5G Moto Mod by adding it to any Unlimited smartphone plan for $10/month. It is available for pre-order now.
Sprint has been quick out of the blocks in terms of 5G and plans to launch its own commercial 5G service in May 2019. The announcement was made at the MWC in Barcelona in February.
Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City will be the first US cities to get 5G from Sprint, with Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington D.C also scheduled to launch in 2019. Sprint says that the total initial coverage footprint of its 5G network will be more than 1,000 square miles across all nine cities.
Sprint has also announced a partnership with cloud gaming service provider, Hatch, with promises to bring more than 100 premium games and cloud streaming of live games and tournaments.
In terms of devices, we know that the V50 ThinQ 5G will be available on Sprint, as will the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. There’s also the rather conspicuous HTC 5G Hub, which we have reported on previously. It’s more of a home hub that a mobile device, although it does feature a 5-inch touchscreen. It allows for the connection up to 20 devices at a time to become a 5G mobile hotspot.
This time last year, T-Mobile was giving it the big licks with plans for launching its 5G network in 30 cities by the end of 2018. It didn’t really pan out like that. Today, T-Mobile is focusing on becoming the first to have broad and deep nationwide 5G, “bringing 5G technology to all Americans”. As it stands, these are the US cities that have T-Mobile 5G today:
- CA: Los Angeles
- NV: Las Vegas
- NY: New York
- TX: Dallas
T-Mobile is working with Sprint to achieve its 5G goals. Sprint won the 2.5 GHz spectrum, and T‑Mobile has the nationwide 600 MHz spectrum. The pair will combine these assets in an attempt to create the highest capacity network in US history. The first 5G networks will launch this year, but we still don’t know exactly when but the second half of 2019 seems like the earliest we possible date.
There’s no word on devices yet, either, but there is a lack of phones in the pipeline that can support the low-band 600MHz spectrum that will power T-Mobile’s 5G network.
Not to be left out, U.S. Cellular is also getting involved in the 5G rollout race. Just last month, the regional carrier announced a multi-year partnership with Ericsson to provide U.S. Cellular with 3GPP standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) hardware and software.
Whilst nothing was confirmed regarding which cities will be first to get U.S Cellular 5G, the carrier did announce that it has been testing its network in rural and suburban environments in Madison, Wisconsin.
The actual cost of these 5G data plans is still relatively unknown, with all carrier keeping their lips tightly sealed. Verizon charges $50 per month when you have a wireless smartphone data plan on your account and $70 per month when you have no wireless smartphone data plan on your account at the moment. That could be considered a reasonable ball-park figure, but until 5G is more widely available and the carriers begin to compete on price, we’ll have to wait and see.
Are you excited for 5G in the US? Let us know in the comments below.