AT&T Says Nationwide Low-Band 5G Will Arrive in 2020

Dan Jones
7/24/2019
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AT&T says it is on track to deliver nationwide, mobile 5G in the first half of next year.

The operator says that it has completed 60% of its 700MHz 4G public safety FirstNet deployment now, which is 5G-ready for AT&T's low-band spectrum deployment in 2020.

"We're on track for nationwide 5G in the first half of next year," said CEO Randall Stephenson on the operator's second-quarter earnings conference call. AT&T currently has its high-band 39GHz millimeter-wave networks up in 20 markets in the US.

The CEO, however, is especially bullish on its FirstNet deployments for 5G. "It's allowing us to deploy this 5G hardware with one touch on the cell site," he says. The FirstNet deployment is expected to be 70% finished by the end of the year.

AT&T will continue to deploy mmWave "market by market" for 5G, even as it plans nationwide coverage with low-band spectrum.

"It will take a while to deploy our really high-speed spectrum," says Stephenson. He notes that users will get the "really radical speed lifts" of 1 Gbit/s with millimeter wave.

So, 5G will continue to be "business-driven" for the time being, Stephenson says, with projects like its 5G Innovation Zone in Austin. AT&T currently only sells 5G devices to select businesses and developers.

The consumer side will take off as more handsets become available next year. "As we exit next year, there will be a dozen [5G] handsets," the CEO says.

Meanwhile, AT&T added 144,000 [4G & 3G] smartphone connections to its network during the quarter, with 72,000 net adds of users with other kinds of phones on a monthly contract. There were 341,000 net subscriber adds on the prepaid side, 283,000 of which were phones.

AT&T reported revenue of $44.9 billion for the second quarter, up from revenue of $39 billion during the same period last year.

Earnings per share came in at an adjusted 89 cents a share, in line with analysts' estimates, and down from 91 cents a share last year.

Net income for the quarter was $3.7 billion.

AT&T's planned nationwide rollout of 5G in the first half of 2020 will put it amongst the first carriers in the US to deploy 5G across the country. T-Mobile may actually be first in the US in the last half of 2019, but AT&T will beat Verizon with a countrywide rollout of the new network technology.

We don't yet know when AT&T will actually start to sell 5G devices to consumers. The operator has started some limited business deployments on 5G. We don't yet have figures for how many 5G devices have been sold, but major sales are likely to occur as more smartphones, and other devices, become available in 2020.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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