Yesterday (Dec. 3), Verizon announced its first 5G smartphone in a partnership with Samsung, and the phone is due out in the first half of next year. Not to be outdone, AT&T also announced that it too will launch the same 5G phone from Samsung in the near future, with a more-specific release window of spring 2019.
By the time the device launches, AT&T's 5G network could be active in as many as 19 cities. Right now, the carrier plans to introduce 5G in 12 markets before the end of 2018, including Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Antonio and New Orleans. AT&T also said it was still on track to begin shipping its first 5G device, Netgear's Nighthawk M5 Fusion hotspot, later this month.
Details on the phone itself are slim, though AT&T has confirmed to Tom's Guide that this will be the same 5G phone Verizon announced yesterday.
We don't know what it will look like, nor do we know if it will echo elements we expect to see in the upcoming Galaxy S10 line, like an in-screen fingerprint sensor and bezel-free Infinity-O display. The S10 series is expected to launch around the time of Mobile World Congress in late February, so this 5G Samsung device will almost assuredly arrive afterwards.
That said, there's a possibility AT&T and Verizon could simply be teasing the 5G-capable variant of the Galaxy S10 that was rumored last month. According to reports, Samsung is prepping a halo model of its next flagship with 5G connectivity in honor of the Galaxy S line's 10th anniversary. Then again, this mystery phone could just as easily be a totally different device entirely, with an exclusive design and running gear.
AT&T's major carrier rivals are also preparing to introduce their first 5G products. Technically, Verizon already has — its 5G Home modem/router combo is available now in select markets and delivers 5G speeds to residential networks. However, Big Red's mobile 5G network is still a work in progress, and the first product to support it will either be Samsung's phone or the 5G Moto Mod that snaps onto the back of the Moto Z3. Verizon says both will be available in early 2019.
Meanwhile, Sprint has chosen LG as its partner for its first 5G phone, and is also targeting a first-half 2019 release. We know as much about that phone as we do about this one.
With three of the four major carriers having already announced their first 5G phones, this seems as appropriate a time as any to stress once more that being first to something isn't the same as being the best. That's probably why Apple is reportedly waiting until at least 2020 to deliver 5G iPhones.
Anyone who remembers the sorry state that LTE launched in roughly eight years ago knows what happens when products and infrastructures are rushed out before they're clearly ready — and so far, the 5G race is giving us a serious case of déjà vu.