T-Mobile isn't going to sit by the wayside while its carrier rivals talk up plans for 5G networks. The magenta crew has announced that it plans to roll out a nationwide 5G network starting in 2019, with completion by 2020. It'll use some of the provider's 600MHz frequencies to help make this speedy service happen. And yes, this will be real, standards-based 5G -- not the faux 5G (really an amalgam of upgrades to 4G) AT&T launched in April. The news is bound to make you happy if you're eager for a wireless internet connection faster than your landline service at home, although it's important to be cautious. Like most hyped-up network upgrade, there's some context you're not getting.
While it's true that you should be wary of anyone promising public 5G access in 2017, it's not as if competing carriers aren't planning true 5G networks of their own. AT&T hopes to have some form of it up and running as soon as late 2018, for instance. And no, they aren't just going to lean on millimeter wave spectrum (which has limited reach compared to lower frequencies) to make 5G a reality. As they gradually shut down their legacy networks, they'll reuse some of the newly freed airwaves for 5G service.
More than anything, T-Mobile's announcement serves as a goal post: you can expect some form of nationwide 5G to be available within 3 years. Although that's a long way off, it beats the uncertainty that has swirled around the technology until relatively recently. The big question now is whether all the major networks will be ready in a similar time frame.
AT&T's faux 5G network launches in Austin
At last, 5G wireless is here... sort of, but not really. As promised, AT&T has launched its unofficial 5G network, starting with certain parts of Austin. So long as you have a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus, you can get speeds that should leave regular LTE in the dust. Expect downloads about twice as fast on average, the carrier says. Indianapolis is due for the next rollout in the summer, and there will be 20 total areas covered (including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco) by the end of 2017. And if you're not inclined to Samsung hardware, you should see "numerous other devices" this year that take advantage of the new network.
The launch will certainly give you some bragging rights if you're an early smartphone adopter, but we wouldn't quite call it the dawn of the 5G era. As we hinted earlier, the wireless industry is still hashing out the details of 5G. You won't get "real" 5G until there's a standard, and that will affect both the performance you expect as well as compatibility. AT&T is really just implementing a number of existing technologies to boost LTE to 5G-level speeds, such as carrier aggregation (bonding multiple wireless frequencies), multiple-in-multiple-out antennas and advanced modulation. Don't be surprised if some of this doesn't translate to an official 5G implementation.
This doesn't mean your S8 will lose 5G-like speeds the moment there is a standard, but we wouldn't count on getting performance as good as the real thing. You certainly can't count on a software update. Arguably, AT&T is launching its faux 5G network just to shout "first!" -- it wants to one-upVerizon's 5G plans and show that it's ahead of the game, even if it's only by a matter of a few months at most.