AT&T first to offer mobile 5G services in USA

Congratulations to AT&T on launching the first mobile 5G service in the United States on December 21, 2018. The race to mobile 5G has now begun. What does that mean to the wireless industry? Let’s take a look at what can we expect next and when from companies like Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, Apple, Android, Galaxy and many others as well.

Sign at AT&T's flagship San Francisco store
Stephen Lawson

Congratulations to AT&T. As of December 21, 2018, AT&T Mobility is the first wireless carrier to offer mobile 5G service in the United States. We’ve been waiting a long time, and this is something I think every wireless carrier will be offering starting next year in 2019. Let’s take a closer look at what this means to both AT&T to be first, to their competitors, the wireless marketplace in general and in fact, every other industry.

Just like with every other wireless generation like 2G, 3G and 4G, it is not a quick and easy as flipping of a switch and changing everything overnight. The transition to 5G will take several years.

As always, it always starts in a few cities. Then as time passes more cities are rolled out and the service footprint in each city is expanded. As all this is going on, 5G gets faster, better and stronger. And this happens at carrier after carrier.

Moving to 5G is a longer-term process, not a quick event

This is the way upgrading from one G to the next has always worked in the wireless industry. And that is the way we can expect it to move ahead today. While coverage will continue to expand, 5G will continue to get better, stronger, faster. It’s an ongoing process.

So, what just happened with AT&T is the first entry into the 5G marketplace of any wireless carrier in the USA. This is one of many steps over the next several years that will involve not only AT&T Mobility, but Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, C Spire Wireless and more.

As 5G expands, it will get better, stronger, faster

Verizon launched something they call 5G Home service a few months ago. While this is good, it is not a mobile service. And when we think about and talk about 5G, we think wireless. Verizon 5G Home uses 5G technology but is only as a broadband replacement for the home. So, while this is good and uses 5G technology for the home, this is not mobile 5G.

Basically, it appears the two biggest wireless carriers, AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless are in a cut-throat PR battle to be first to 5G. I’m not sure why the battle is so intense. It’s not like there will be a winner and loser. Both will be winners in the long-term.

I suppose there is quite a bit of cache in being first. That’s likely the whole point of the battle. In this case, history books will show that AT&T was first to the mobile 5G marketplace.

The wonderful world of 5G has two big parts, the network and the devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and more.

The first 5G smartphones are not coming until 2019. So, how does AT&T provide these services to customers with no 5G smartphones in the marketplace today?

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot connects users to AT&T at 5G speeds

They are partnering with Netgear and offering the Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. This device connects to the 5G network and users connect their 4G smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices to it at 5G speeds.

This is actually a brilliant idea. It means users do not have to rush and upgrade to a 5G smartphone when they are initially released unless and until they want to. This also means users will get 5G speeds on all their previous devices including tablets and laptops. Something that is very desirable by every user.

The 5G transformation is a journey, not an event

Remember, 5G is a journey that we will be on over the next several years. It’s just like the transformation from 2G to 3G to 4G. This will transform the wireless industry on both the network side and the handset side.

But 5G will go much further than any other upgrade. It will empower every other competitor in every other industry to become a wireless player of sorts. What do I mean? Think about the way Uber and Lyft transformed the taxi and limousine industry. That’s only one example.

I expect 5G will enable countless other competitors in countless other industries to do the same thing. One of the first industries I expect to see is pay TV. 5G wireless pay TV will create new growth opportunities from existing and new competitors.

5G wireless pay TV may be next industry to transform

AT&T already offers wireless pay TV on their DirecTV NOW service over the AT&T Mobility network. 5G just means they will offer more signal, faster. This could mean they may be offering DirecTV NOW over a wireless connection to homes or offices.

I also expect to see many other competitors enter this same 5G wireless pay TV space over the next several years.

Just like this, industry-after-industry and company-after-company will use 5G in the same way. This will create plenty of opportunity and risk for every player. This is the way innovation always works. Advanced innovation always transforms yesterday and brings tomorrow.

5G brings both huge growth opportunity and huge challenge

This is both a huge new growth opportunity, and a huge challenge to every existing player. If companies look ahead, they will see lots of new potential. That’s what I expect from 5G and it’s all coming. Are you ready?

Bottom line, 5G is the next big step in wireless and AT&T is first-to-market with mobile 5G services using the Netgear Nighthawk hotpot. The next step comes in 2019 when the first 5G enabled smartphones will arrive. AT&T has two scheduled and Verizon has one so far.

The 5G race is now official started. Remember, the beginning of every creation story starts with a big-bang, and the 5G big-bang was just launched by AT&T with the first mobile service.

This race is not over, it’s just beginning. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. There will be lots of excitement from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android Pixel, Samsung Galaxy and so much more. Stay tuned!

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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