Tech

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

Key Points
  • AT&T just launched its consumer 5G network in 10 markets.
  • It joins AT&T's 5G+ network, which launched in December 2018.
  • But there isn't a phone that supports 5G and 5G+ 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, enabling consumers to take advantage of faster data speeds than what 4G LTE offers.

The markets are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Pittsburgh; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, California.

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

AT&T is marketing two types 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 isn't the super-fast 5G you want. That's because there's also AT&T's so-called "5G+" network that launched last December for corporate clients and uses high-band mmWave technology.

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

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 United States. But, just like with AT&T, there isn't a phone yet that offers what you really want: support for future low-range, midrange 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 5G and 5G+ technologies should be available by then.

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Correction: AT&T's 5G+ network launched in December 2018.

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