AT&T aims to be the first US operator to offer 5G for mobile customers after announcing plans to launch the technology in a dozen markets later this year, in a move which steals a march on rivals Verizon and T-Mobile US.

In a statement, the country’s second largest operator explained it had been able to push ahead with 5G sooner than expected after international standards were finalised by 3GPP last month. AT&T said it had been one of the key drivers of standards acceleration in 2017 and, with the specifications now available, hardware, chipset and device manufacturers were able to start development.

AT&T did not offer specifics about its 5G mobile launch, such as in which of a dozen or so markets it expects to launch, but said it would bring 5G to market in late 2018 “without compromising its long-term vision”.

It is also unknown which devices will support AT&T’s first mobile 5G launches – Qualcomm unveiled its 5G-ready X50 chipset in October 2016 and has said it expects initial 5G handsets to become commercially available in 2019.

AT&T jumps ahead
Until AT&T’s announcement it had looked likely US operators were focused solely on fixed-wireless 5G launches this year.

AT&T held fixed-wireless trials in a number of markets with plans to launch in 2018. Verizon also conducted trials of fixed-wireless 5G in 11 markets throughout 2017 and announced an aim to launch in up to five markets by the end of this year. 

In October 2017, Verizon CFO Matt Ellis clarified mobile 5G did not form part of the operator’s near-term goals, explaining “mobile 5G is certainly not a 2018 activity”. T-Mobile US previously also indicated it is aiming to begin mobile 5G rollouts in 2019.

AT&T, on the other, had notably left some ambiguity around its 5G plans for 2018, and did not rule out a mobile rollout this year.

Laying the groundwork
Melissa Arnoldi, president of technology and operations at AT&T, added that with faster speeds and ultra-low latency, “5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more”.

In addition to offering 5G to consumers this year, AT&T said it will trial the technology with businesses as part of its push towards enterprises.

The company said it had also laid the groundwork for 5G in 23 major cities, including New York, Chicago and Atlanta.