Skip to main content

Wait, What? AT&T's 5G Launch Won't Include Smartphones

AT&T promised to bring 5G service to 12 cities by the end of the year, but don’t expect any phones to support it when the faster wireless standard debuts.

Instead, the company plans to roll out its 5G wireless service using a device called a puck, which is essentially a small, portable modem — a mobile hotspot of sorts.

MORE: 5G Networking: The Definitive Guide - Tom's Guide

“Getting the handsets at scale penetrated into the market will slow things down,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call yesterday (Jan. 31). “So that’s why we’re going to be deploying pucks in the first part of our deployments in these 12 markets. So it is a mobile solution but it’s not going to be a handset just because there aren’t going to be that many handsets available.”

That news will disappoint anyone who expected 5G to become a reality this year, but 2019 looks more likely given that the last 5G standard won’t be agreed upon until June. That leaves chip makers and handset manufacturers little time to work on products that would be ready in time to take advantage of AT&T’s planned 5G service.

AT&T has yet to announce the 12 markets where it plans to introduce 5G service. Meanwhile, Verizon is launching residential broadband service in five cities toward the end of this year and T-Mobile is aiming for 2020.

But until the next Galaxy, iPhone or Pixel have 5G radios inside, few people will be able to take advantage of the faster speeds and lower latency that the fifth generation of mobile connectivity promises to deliver. And that's apparently going to include smartphone owners involved in 5G trials later this year.