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AT&T’s 5G network is live in several cities – but for now, you’ll have to use a hotspot

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 19, 2018

Although available in some cities, AT&T’s 5G mobile network can’t be accessed yet via users’ smartphones. The company’s first 5G-compatible device, a mobile hotspot, must be used for for access until its compatible smartphone hits the market next year. (Mark Lennihan / AP)
Although available in some cities, AT&T’s 5G mobile network can’t be accessed yet via users’ smartphones. The company’s first 5G-compatible device, a mobile hotspot, must be used for for access until its compatible smartphone hits the market next year. (Mark Lennihan / AP)
By Melissa Repko Dallas Morning News

AT&T announced Tuesday its 5G network is live in parts of a dozen cities. And it said its first 5G-compatible device – a mobile hotspot – will soon be in the hands of some customers.

It marks the Dallas-based carrier’s latest steps toward a nationwide rollout of the next-generation mobile network that’s expected to bring faster, more reliable cellphone service and support emerging tech like autonomous cars, virtual reality and widespread use of robotics in manufacturing.

AT&T’s mobile 5G network is live in four Texas cities: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Waco. It’s also in areas of Atlanta; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City; and New Orleans.

In the first half of 2019, AT&T said it will go live with 5G in parts of seven more cities: Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; and San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

But there’s a hitch: You can’t use the mobile network for your phones yet. Smartphones that connect to the mobile network will start hitting the market in 2019. AT&T has said it’ll offer a 5G-compatible smartphone from Samsung in the first half of 2019 and will add another one to its lineup in the second half of next year.

Apple is expected to hold off on launching an iPhone for the 5G network until at least 2020. With the launch of 3G and 4G, it similarly waited to launch an iPhone until up to a year after the technology’s deployment and the debut of rival smartphones.

While customers wait for the smartphones, they’ll be able to buy AT&T’s first 5G-compatible device: a mobile hotspot that connects to their devices, such as laptops and tablets. Starting on Dec. 21, the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot will be available to a select group of businesses and customers chosen by AT&T as its early adopters.

The “puck” will be available to the public in the spring. The device will cost $499, with a 15 gigabyte data plan running $70 a month.

In a statement, Andre Fuetsch, AT&T’s chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs, called the device “the first taste of the mobile 5G era.”

Texas has been one of AT&T’s 5G testing hubs.

The company launched a 5G pilot in Waco at Magnolia Market at The Silos, a retail complex owned by HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines that attracts about 5,000 tourists a day.

It also opened a new lab in Austin this spring to simulate how the mobile 5G network will be used by customers. And it is working with Samsung’s semiconductor facility in Austin to test how 5G could be used in manufacturing.

Verizon launched its 5G network earlier this year, but it’s a broadband replacement instead of a standards-based mobile service.

Verizon 5G Home, which went live in October, uses a device that resembles a home broadband router to deliver Wi-Fi. It costs $70 a month, or $50 a month for Verizon customers. It’s available in only one Texas city: Houston. It’s also available in Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif.

The rival carrier also plans to release a 5G smartphone with Samsung in the first half of 2019.

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