5gThe first three AT&T mobile 5G markets will be parts of Atlanta, Dallas and Waco in 2018, the company said today. The company also plans to launch nine other markets this year, but has not named them.

As we previously reported, AT&T’s initial mobile 5G service will be based on mobile hotspots, or “pucks,” as 5G-capable smartphones will not be available in time for the launches. The company said it will add more devices, including smartphones, in 2019.

The upshot is that although AT&T’s initial 5G service won’t operate in quite the same way that most wireless customers are used to, it does give AT&T the ability to claim a 5G “first” in a highly competitive wireless market.

“The fact remains that we are the only U.S. carrier that has committed to build a standards-based mobile 5G network in 2018,” said an AT&T spokesperson in an email to Telecompetitor.

“After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G – and do it much sooner than most people thought possible,” said Igal Elbaz, AT&T senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in today’s press release.

AT&T and other carriers have been trialing 5G in fixed configurations and some have big hopes for that technology as a wireless alternative to FTTP or cable modem, at a deployment cost that is considerably less. But ultimately the mobile 5G market is likely to be considerably more important than the fixed 5G market.

AT&T Mobile 5G Markets
AT&T said it will “drive a path” to “multi-gigabit speeds” with its mobile 5G service, but those speeds apparently are not part of the initial launch, as the company also noted that “[u]ltimately we expect to reach theoretical peak speeds of multiple gigabits per seconds on devices through mobile 5G.”

As the company notes, though, 5G isn’t just about higher speeds; it is also about lower latency to support applications such as connected cars, the Internet of Things and augmented and virtual reality.

AT&T will deploy 5G service in high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum bands for these initial mobile launches, but the company said it will deploy the technology in additional spectrum bands in the future.

When 5G is deployed in millimeter wave bands, it can support high speed service but over relatively short distances, therefore requiring denser cellsite infrastructure, so it is not surprising that AT&T will want to use a mixture of millimeter wave and other bands to support service.

Today’s press release also touts AT&T’s software defined network (SDN) and edge computing initiatives, which the carrier said will be critical to its 5G plans.