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AT&T Flips the Switch on 5G, But Where’s the Phone?

5G is finally here, but you probably won’t be able to use it right away.

AT&T say it's switching on its 5G service in 12 U.S. cities on Friday (Dec. 21), but that service won’t be with a 5G-ready smartphone. Instead, the wireless carrier is launching its service with a 5G mobile hotspot, Netgear’s Nighthawk.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Service is rolling out this week in parts of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco, Texas. Early next year, 5G service will be available in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.

MORE: The Truth About 5G: What's Coming (and What's Not) in

The good news: AT&T is offering a sweet deal for its first 5G customers. The hotspot and 5G service will be free for at least 90 days, the company said, though it’s unclear which business and individuals will be eligible for that deal. Netgear’s Nighthawk will be $499 when it goes on sale next spring, and 15GB of 5G data will cost $70 a month. To put that cost in some context, AT&T's current unlimited plans for mobile phones cost $70 to $80 a month for unlimited LTE data.

Netgear's Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot was on display at a Qualcomm demo earlier this month. (Credit: Tom's Guide)

(Image credit: Netgear's Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot was on display at a Qualcomm demo earlier this month. (Credit: Tom's Guide))

But 5G smartphones are still a ways off. Samsung will release a 5G phone in the first half of the year on Verizon and AT&T’s 5G networks, and LG is partnering with Sprint to release its own device on that same timeline. Apple is reportedly holding out until 2020, when the transition is complete, to launch a 5G iPhone.

It’s unclear how useful 5G connectivity will be to start, especially when the device is a hotspot and not a phone. But we have to start somewhere. Next year, when Android phones can take advantage of the 5G modem in Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 855 chip, we’ll be able to take advantage of 5G’s promised faster speeds and lower latency.