Monday, February 5, 2018


If you remember the year 2010, you might recall America’s
transition from 3G to 4G wireless, which started with very few
4G devices and cities. It’s now clear that this year’s 4G to 5G
transition will repeat that experience: Leading wireless carrier
AT&T has confirmed that it will follow Verizon’s 2010 playbook
for rolling out next-generation wireless services in 2018, starting
by selling portable hotspots while high-speed phones are being

AT&T’s hotspot plan brings much-needed clarity to a
fuzzy announcement last month that the company would
launch “mobile 5G” in 12 cities this year. As 5G chips and
phones are still in early stages of development, rival T-Mobile
subsequently claimed that AT&T had “no tangible path”
to launching mobile 5G this year. T-Mobile was similarly
dismissive of Verizon, which committed to a smaller-scale
rollout of “fixed 5G” in three to five cities, apparently jumping
the gun on the as-yet-unfinished 5G standard. Verizon responded
by guaranteeing that it would update its proprietary 5G hardware
to ensure 5G standards compatibility.

As both AT&T’s and Verizon’s paths forward are now
clear, we have a much better idea of what America’s 2018
5G roadmap will be, barring any unexpected government
interruptions. If you’re in one of the cities selected by these
carriers, you will be able to buy a wireless device later this
year with roughly the same speed as a wired broadband
connection. AT&T’s “mobile” 5G devices will be battery-
powered and portable pucks; Verizon’s “fixed” 5G devices
will be wall-powered and designed to be left in a home or
small business. In each case, existing computers, tablets,
and phones will likely use Wi-Fi to access the 5G cellular

Given the incredible popularity of smartphones, why aren’t t
he major carriers starting with handsets first? They aren’t likely
to be ready, at least, in the massive quantities necessary to
serve millions of customers. AT&T CEO Randall
Stephenson claims that phones would be the bottleneck
holding up a 5G rollout. “[T]hat’s why we’re going to be
deploying pucks in the first part of our deployments in these
12 markets,” Stephenson explained last night. “So, it is a mobile
solution, but it’s not going to be a handset because there
aren’t going to be that many handsets available.”

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