AT&T’s low-band 5G network officially launches to all customers in ten cities


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

AT&T’s real 5G network is finally launching today, as the company starts to sell the $1,300 Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and flips the switch for all of its customers within coverage areas (and not just selected business partners) to start using the next-generation network.

When AT&T announced the launch last month, it promised its 5G network would be coming to five cities, but in the interim, the company managed to double that list to ten: Birmingham, AL; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Pittsburgh, PA; Providence, RI; Rochester, NY; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; and San Jose, CA. Coverage maps for the cities are available here.

Support for 5G required that customers have either AT&T’s Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite plans ($75 or $85 per month for a single line), but it’ll be offered at no extra charge for those customers. Using 5G data will count toward the unlimited plans’ throttling caps (50GB and 100GB of total data usage), though, which means you could burn through those limits pretty quickly.

As a reminder, AT&T has three different brands for 5G:

  • 5GE — fake 5G, actually just upgraded LTE
  • 5G — actual 5G, but using low-band 850MHz spectrum technology that has broader range but slower speeds than mmWave (also known as Sub-6, and most similar to T-Mobile’s recently launched 600MHz network).
  • 5G+ — mmWave 5G, based in high-band radio frequencies. It’s the fastest (and shortest range) 5G that AT&T launched last year, but only for selected businesses and developers.

Today’s launch is the middle type — the low-band 5G network that will effectively serve as the backbone of AT&T’s 5G coverage across the country.

The mmWave 5G+ flavor of 5G has been around for a year and is live in parts of 23 cities so far. (The extremely limited range of mmWave and its relatively poor ability to pass through buildings makes it tough to offer it on a broader level.) But AT&T still isn’t opening up that high-band spectrum to customers just yet, instead promising that mmWave will come at “a later date.”

When that high-band mmWave network does become available to consumers, AT&T’s strategy with 5G will ultimately be very similar to T-Mobile’s plan. Pair slower, low-band Sub-6 coverage with faster, more localized mmWave spectrum for areas that need the extra bandwidth (like popular tourist spots, sports stadiums, and the like).

AT&T says that these ten cities are only the beginning, promising that “low-band 5G availability will continue to rapidly expand,” calling out in Boston, MA; Bridgeport, CT; Buffalo, NY; Las Vegas, NV; Louisville, KY; and New York City as specific locations as it works toward a wider nationwide rollout in 2020.