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AT&T details 5G Plus plans — what it means for your phone’s speed

AT&T 5G Plus
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

NEW YORK — As we return to the road, AT&T is taking some time to remind people about AT&T 5G, which now reaches 250 million people. That trails T-Mobile 5G, which has the most extensive reach of any U.S. carrier, but AT&T has plans to super-charge its network, with its faster 5G Plus service playing a key role.

To illustrate what's in store, AT&T showed off a handful or two of experiences with partner brands, including some of its sister WarnerMedia properties, during a press event Wednesday (July 14). And 5G Plus was the most weighty of the announcements, with AT&T planning to bring the fast brand of 5G to more airports — where I don't think I've ever had great service in my years of travel. AT&T's partner in this project is Boingo (which isn't to be confused with Gogo, the on-plane Wi-Fi).

In a demo session using SpeedTest, AT&T reps showed off how AT&T 5G Plus download speeds can beat AT&T 4G by 12x— with 632 Mbps down on a tablet next to a phone at 52.8 Mbps down. The difference was more drastic on upload speeds: 35.5 Mbps on 5G Plus and 2.54 Mbps on 4G — which is nearly 14x as fast.

AT&T 5G Plus won't be in your local airport yet, though. AT&T is looking to get the service in seven major U.S. airports by the end of 2021, and 25 by the end of 2022. Individual airports called out include John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York as well as Chicago's O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport

How does that stack up to AT&T's competitor's? Verizon's super-fast 5G Ultra Wideband service is already available in 13 airports as of the end of May — in parts of Chicago O’Hare, Columbus, San Antonio, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, Dulles International, Chicago Midway International, McCarran International, Tampa International, Indianapolis International, Reagan International, and John Wayne Airports.

Other AT&T 5G partners

AT&T 5G event

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

During its 5G event, AT&T also highlighted a bunch of ways that 5G will improve things when you're on the go, though not all were exactly news or novel. AT&T and AR-enabled children's books company Bookful did announced a new partnership, with a new "shelf" of virtual books just for AT&T users. The data-heavy AR books, I’m told, will have greater fidelity and reduced latency by the high-bandwidth 5G. AT&T also showed off demos from IP from its parent company Warner Media, including Space Jam: A New Legacy AR lenses in Instagram, and a video of a proof-of-concept Harry Potter virtual reality experience.

Sports and 5G are also on AT&T's agenda, as the carrier's adding more ways to track plays in games. I saw a demo of an upcoming addition to the Chicago Bulls official app, where timelines will help fans keep track of what's gone on. A rep mentioned a feature AT&T would love to have, in which you could tap on timeline entries to open up highlights — a feature that would benefit greatly from both fast speeds and low latency. That's not available just yet, though.

AT&T says it's looking to add similar features to WNBA apps, as it's the "official 5G Innovation Partner" for both the NBA and WNBA.

AT&T 5G plus

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

A Google Stadia demo allowed me to take a spin on Mortal Kombat 11 to see how seamless cloud gaming is in 5G. While I won both of my rounds of online kombat in the game, I did notice a bit of lag in the second fight.

AT&T 5G coverage expands

AT&T 5G

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

AT&T also made a few announcements about its evolving 5G coverage. The company noted its 5G coverage now covers more than 250 million people across the country, and that its AT&T 5G Plus (mmWave) can be found in 38 cities and 20 venues in the country. It should be grow to parts of 40 cities and 40 venues by the end of 2021. 

Having finished field tests of C-Band spectrum this past spring, AT&T will soon deploy the first 40 MHz of the speed-boosting spectrum that it won in an FCC auction. This C-Band build plan aims to cover 70 to 75 million people by the end of 2022, with coverage reaching 200 million by 2023. 

AT&T 5G outlook

Personally, I've often turned off 5G on my phone most of the time, choosing not to drain my device's battery for what's a modest boost in speed at this point. I'd even label myself a 5G skeptic, so this summer will give me a few chances to see what the emerging wireless technology is good for. 

I'll be going to two very densely populated venues over the coming months — Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden in NYC. Similarly, AT&T and Boingo didn't mention my airport of choice Newark Liberty International, in its list of targets.

AT&T's 5G is available in both New York and Las Vegas, but, frustratingly, the list of Available AT&T 5G Plus venues does not include either venue. So, I'll see for myself whether or not I enable 5G, or keep it off on my iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.