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AT&T’s 5G network goes live in 12 cities — but you can’t use it yet

AT&T says its 5G network went live in parts of 12 cities this morning, making it the first wireless carrier to launch a mobile network based on the 5G standard. A small number of customers will be able to use the network starting on Friday when AT&T will begin distributing its first 5G device: a mobile hot spot that can connect to the network’s much faster airwaves.

But it’ll be a slow launch; you won’t be able to go out to a store and buy AT&T’s 5G hot spot for several more months. For now, AT&T is reaching out to businesses in the area and inviting them to try out the new tech, seemingly as a way to ease in the network and make sure it’s working well before bringing more and more people onto the service.

AT&T won’t charge customers for the hot spot or their 5G service during this launch period. Sometime in the spring, AT&T will begin selling the hot spot for $499. AT&T is also announcing the price of its first 5G plan: $70 per month for 15GB.

The announcement suggests that future 5G devices will also require “5G compatible” data plans in order to connect to the faster network. That initial plan is more expensive than the LTE plan offered with a similar 4G hot spot ($50 for 10GB), but it also offers more data.

And despite the hot spot launching this week, AT&T still isn’t offering real-world speed estimates. A spokesperson said the hot spot has peak theoretical speeds of 1.2 Gbps, but that “actual speeds will be lower.”

That’s not a huge surprise. AT&T was one of the carriers demoing “real world” 5G at a conference earlier this month, where the demoed speeds topped out at around 140 Mbps. That’s still around 3x faster than a typical LTE connection, but it’s nowhere near the gigabit speeds that we’ve been promised from 5G.

AT&T’s 5G network launched in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco. In the next six months, AT&T also plans to expand to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. In all cases, the network will only be present in “parts of” these cities.

The United States’ other major wireless carriers are also planning to launch their 5G networks in the months ahead as well. T-Mobile promised to have 5G up and running in 30 cities this year, with actual usage starting in 2019. Verizon is planning a 5G hot spot for “early” next year (and already launched a kind of-sort of 5G home internet service), and Sprint says it’ll have a 5G smartphone in the first half of the year.

AT&T said in January that it would have a 5G network live before the end of 2018. With today’s announcement, it seems to have met that goal, even if this is a very, very soft launch.

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