AT&T’s 5G network is currently live for consumers with one phone that only works on its low-band service. As 2020 rolls on expect that number to dramatically change, as Chris Penrose, AT&T’s senior vice president of Advanced Mobility and Entertainment Solutions, told CNET on Wednesday at CES that the company plans to have 15 5G phones this year.
Most of the phones will be capable of taking advantage of AT&T’s low-band 5G spectrum as well as its higher-frequency millimeter wave. Additional devices like laptops, tablets and hotspots will also be available, but no exact number of products were given.
The low-band 850Mhz network, which AT&T calls simply “5G,” went live in December and is currently active in 19 markets. Penrose says that the company plans to expand this network to cover 200 million people “by the summer.”
As with T-Mobile’s similar low-band network, speeds on 5G are comparable to 4G LTE (which AT&T has confusingly branded as 5GE) though it covers wider areas and can reach inside buildings.
The millimeter-wave network, which AT&T calls “5G Plus,” has been live since late 2018 and most recently expanded to parts of 35 cities, but has thus far limited access only to developers. As with Verizon’s millimeter-wave network, 5G Plus offers significantly faster speeds than low-band 5G, but its coverage is often severely limited to a handful of outdoor locations in the cities where it’s live.
Penrose equates AT&T’s 5G strategy to a chocolate chip cookie, with the cookie representing the larger low-band 5G footprint and the chips equating to the assortment of millimeter-wave cities “sprinkled in across the country.”
New phones, Penrose says, will enable consumers to have access to the “entire cookie” and tap into AT&T’s full 5G network.
While it is unclear when the next batch of 5G phones will arrive, rumors point to Samsung’s next Galaxy S line being among the first phones to support both flavors of 5G. Samsung announced Saturday that it will be hosting an Unpacked event, the method it traditionally uses to launch major new mobile products, on Feb. 11 in San Francisco.
Ronan Dunne, head of the Verizon Consumer Group, told CNET on Tuesday that his company plans to have 20 5G devices in 2020 with some being priced under $600 later this year.
Penrose would not go into specifics on pricing for AT&T’s 5G devices but did say that the company will be “competitive in the marketplace.”