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It’s all go on AT&T’s 5G network

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If you’re lucky enough to live or work anywhere near one of the flashy new AT&T 5G cell sites, and have won the telco lottery, you’ll only have to wait until Friday to live the dream.

On 21 December AT&T will become the first telco to cross the finish line and offer a mobile 5G service over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network. It’s been years getting to this point, but the green button is about to be struck for the first time in a meaningful way.

“This is the first taste of the mobile 5G era,” said Andre Fuetsch, President of AT&T Labs. “Being first, you can expect us to evolve very quickly. It’s early on the 5G journey and we’re ready to learn fast and continually iterate in the months ahead.”

But before you get too excited, the only device which will be available right now is a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. A few customers, presumably a few narcissistic tweeters and Instagrammers, will be given a free devices and 90 days of data, but for mere mortals the hot spot will cost $499, as well as $70 a month for the service next Spring. This might just be in time for the launch of 5G compatible phones.

So, who lives in the lucky cities? Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco, will be the first to get the 5G treatment. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, will be next in early 2019.

For AT&T it’s a win. All the telcos have been in the same race, though Verizon and AT&T built an early lead from the early days. T-Mobile US might suggest it didn’t want to be the first, and is instead focusing on a genuine nationwide rollout, but don’t get too caught up in the PR spin. CEO John Legere and his magenta army would have loved to be first across the finish line, something else for him to get wild-eyed about on social media, but that prize, and the ‘first’ claims in advertising is heading over to AT&T.

What does this mean for the consumers who are lucky enough to get their hands on the 5G magic? Probably very little. It’s a marketing quirk and a claim for early adopters to proudly emblazon across their social media accounts. There aren’t many consumer services out there right now which wouldn’t work effectively on 4G, so we suggest it might not mean much at the moment.

That said, this shouldn’t take the gleam off the AT&T achievement. 5G has been in the pipeline for years and it should be recognised as a significant step forward. Now over to the wonderful creatives around the world who will think of the ideas and services which we haven’t even dreamed of today. And that’s where 5G might make a difference in the eyes of the consumer.

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