AT&T revealed plans to rapidly scale its mobile 5G network in early 2019 and beyond, as it announced it would begin offering commercial service on 21 December.

The operator’s opening gambit is to offer the service to “select businesses and consumers” through a mobile hotspot device manufactured by Netgear. This will be offered at no additional cost for a minimum of three months: after that, customers will pay an upfront fee of $499 for the Nighthawk device with a $70 per month service plan delivering 15GB of data.

AT&T said customers won’t have to sign up to an annual tariff.

While the commercial offering goes live in a few days, AT&T said its 3GPP standards-based network is now live in select areas of 12 cities, with plans to add service to seven more over the first half of 2019.

Humble beginnings
In a statement, the operator acknowledged its initial launch “starts small,” but CTO Andre Fuetsche said it will “evolve very quickly” over the coming months, adding the service is “the first taste of the mobile 5G era”.

Improvements in the pipeline include enhancing the coverage, data rates and devices available.

Though the service is being offered to both consumers and businesses, AT&T Business CMO Mo Katibeh said the operator expects “initial adopters will be innovative, growing businesses.”

“They’re the starting point for what we think will be a technology revolution like we’ve never seen before.”

AT&T will initially offer 5G in Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Waco, Texas.

The additional cities planned for H1 2019 are Las Vegas, Nevada; Nashville, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; and Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, California.

Though AT&T is initially using mmWave spectrum, Gordon Mansfield, VP of converged access and device technology, said earlier this month the operator plans to add sub-6GHz spectrum into the mix to significantly extend the reach of its 5G service by the end of 2019.