Analysts questioned the details of AT&T’s freshly announced mobile 5G launch, noting its decision to provide service for free to a select group of customers makes the offering sound more like a trial than a true commercial launch.

The operator yesterday (18 December) revealed plans for a commercial launch on 21 December, with “select businesses and consumers” in 12 US cities due to be the first to receive service via a mobile hotspot device from Netgear. AT&T said the device and service will be offered “at no additional cost” for 90 days, after which it will charge for both.

On Twitter, IDC senior research analyst Jason Leigh questioned whether “free service for a curated customer base” truly qualifies as a commercial launch in 2018 or “just a large test deployment”.

Similarly, Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst at Gartner, told Mobile World Live (MWL) the limited nature of the launch “implies this is more of a commercial trial than a commercially available product”.

“AT&T acknowledges the limited reach of its 5G service in the named cities and that it’s cherry-picking the first business and consumer subscribers. So early customers probably will be most useful as proof of concept for what in-the-field 5G service will actually provide; what pricing and plan structure initially will look like; and what customers will end up using it for.”

A pretty penny
The operator’s announcement notably provided onlookers a first taste of mobile 5G pricing. It will offer 15GB of data for $70 per month, with Netgear’s Nighthawk device available for a one-off fee of $499.

For comparison, AT&T’s premium unlimited 4G LTE plan, which includes 15GB of hotspot data, costs $80 per month for one line with an autopay discount. Additionally, 4G hotspots offered by the operator cost up to $200.

Assuming AT&T isn’t zero rating a significant amount of content, Menezes noted the 5G setup amounts to “a pretty expensive plan”.

However, an operator representative hinted the cost may change when it launches 5G handsets in 2019, noting it would reveal smartphone device and plan pricing in the first half of 2019.