Dallas will be one of the first cities where customers will be able to experience 5G, a faster and more reliable next-generation wireless network, AT&T announced late Tuesday.
The Dallas-based telecom giant said Dallas, Atlanta and Waco will be among the dozen markets where it will roll out mobile 5G by the end of 2018. The company did not specify the neighborhoods where the network will be available. It said it would announce more cities in the coming months.
Dallas and Waco were chosen because of their strong ties to the company, said Gordon Mansfield, AT&T’s vice president of radio access network and device design. Dallas is the telecom’s hometown. Waco already has a 5G pilot underway at Magnolia Market at The Silos, a retail complex owned by HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines that’s become a tourism magnet with about 5,000 visitors a day.
Atlanta was chosen because it’s a large city in the southeast, Mansfield said. The city is also is home to one of the company’s largest offices outside of Dallas.
But without 5G-compatible smartphones and tablets on the market yet, it’ll take time for customers in Dallas and beyond to fully take advantage of the new network. Mansfield said AT&T is working aggressively with vendors, so that it can start stocking shelves in 2019.
“It’s always the chicken or egg,” he said. “It’s important for us to start to build, so the device ecosystem understands this is the future of our network.”
5G will bring faster speeds for customers and help support an explosion of connected devices, from medical equipment to smart thermostats. The next-generation network will also have the reliability needed for self-driving cars, deliveries by drone and more seamless experiences for virtual reality and augmented reality.
AT&T will launch its first mobile device for 5G — a mobile, battery-powered Wi-Fi hotspot — in late 2018, Mansfield said.
AT&T also announced it’s opening a new lab in Austin this spring to test 5G mobile deployments by simulating how the network will be used by customers. For example, it could test how the 5G network performs at a concert venue by simulating a lot of people uploading video at the same time.
AT&T aims to be the first U.S. wireless carrier to offer 5G widely. The company announced in January that it would roll out the wireless network to a dozen markets and start selling a mobile device for the next-generation network by the end of 2018.
“You have to jumpstart the ecosystem,” Mansfield said. “You have to put the network capabilities in place that you can put different services on top of. The faster you get started, the faster you get to scale.”
AT&T has been testing 5G in Austin, Waco, Kalamazoo, Mich. and South Bend, Ind., to determine how the high-frequency millimeter waves perform in environments with different foliage, building materials and weather conditions. But those tests have focused on the fixed wireless application of 5G — faster internet that’s delivered to a designated area through the air instead of through fiber or copper lines laid in the ground.
Other wireless carriers are also racing toward a 5G future. Verizon said it’ll launch 5G in up to five U.S. markets in 2018, starting with Sacramento, Calif. Sprint said it will roll out 5G by the end of 2019. And T-Mobile said it will start offering 5G in 2019, with nationwide coverage by 2020.
U.S. carriers have used 5G announcements to create excitement and market themselves — especially since building the network infrastructure is such a pricey investment, said Sundeep Rangan, a fellow for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and an associate professor of engineering at New York University.
Rangan said device makers will likely debut the first smartphones for 5G in 2019 and 2020. But he said many of 5G’s most compelling uses, such as autonomous cars, are still years in the future.