AT&T Low-Band 5G to Arrive With Samsung Phone in 2H19

AT&T says it is intending to have a Samsung smartphone available to support its new low-band 5G network in the second half of 2019 as it announces support for those frequencies in some US markets.

On December 9, the operator announced that it would widely supplement its existing (and expanding) millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G Mobile service with a low-band service -- using unnamed frequencies -- in the second half of this year. (See AT&T's New Nationwide, Mobile 5G Timeline and 5G in the USA: A Post-CES Update.)

"We're planning to make 5G broadly available over low-band, or sub-6, spectrum this year and have nationwide 5G coverage in first half of 2020," an AT&T spokesperson told Light Reading over email. "We've also announced three 5G capable devices so far, including a Samsung smartphone that will be sub-6 and mmWave [millimeterwave] compatible, which we expect to have available in the second half of this year. "

So, AT&T expects to have one Samsung smartphone supporting the 5G New Radio (5G NR) specification on millimeter wave and a lower band (or bands) by the second half of this year. As well as the Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) Nighthawk hotspot and another Samsung Corp. smartphone supporting mmWave 5G and multiple 4G LTE bands. (See A 5G Device Timeline for 2019.)

The operator hasn't yet revealed what low-band frequency -- or frequencies -- it plans to use. It has, however, been rolling out 700MHz as part of its "FirstNet" project, as well as installing AWS-3 (1695-1710 MHz/1755-1780 MHz/2155-2180 MHz) and WCS (2.3GHz) mid-band frequencies. AT&T says it has been installing "5G-ready" radios for all these frequencies as part of the FirstNet public safety deployment. (See AT&T Pegs 2019 Capex Guidance in $23B Range, Despite 5G Push.)

AT&T says it covers 500,000 square miles in the US with the FirstNet network now. Which effectively means it can switch on low-band 5G support in multiple markets now. But it is waiting for a compatible 5G smartphone, which will arrive later this year from Samsung.

This puts AT&T in a low-band race with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) (2.5GHz) and T-Mobile (600MHz). All are expecting to launch low-band commercial services around the middle of this year. AT&T and T-Mobile have also promised nationwide low-band 5G service in the US in 2020. Although much appears to depend on the availability of compatible 5G devices for each carrier's chosen low-band frequencies. And the final outcome depends on what happens with the Sprint/T-Mobile merger. (See Darkness Gathers Over T-Mobile/Sprint Merger and T-Mobile Quietly Confirms 5G Network in 30 Cities.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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