AT&T announced another big expansion of its low-band 5G network today, saying that it now covers 160 million Americans, an increase of 40 million since the last it gave us numbers. Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Nashville, and Tallahassee are among the cities where a “5G” icon will light up on AT&T phones for the first time. (The full list is here.)
AT&T’s announcement comes on the same day we’re hearing about the new Samsung A71 5G, which will be available this Friday as a pre-order from AT&T, and on sale from T-Mobile and Samsung for $600. AT&T is giving a $100 gift card to anyone who pre-orders the phone.
The A71 5G is now the least expensive 5G phone in the US, undercutting the OnePlus 8 by $100. It has a 6.7-inch screen; a 4,500mAh battery; 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; and a lot of cameras, including a 64MP main camera, 12MP wide-angle, 5MP macro and a depth sensor.
Like the OnePlus 8, the A71 5G only accesses “sub-6” 5G networks. In other words, not the very limited but super-fast millimeter-wave network coverage AT&T has in 35 cities and T-Mobile has in seven. It has started to look like mmWave technology is just too expensive to appear in phones under $900 or so.
AT&T’s coverage expansion spreads its low-frequency 5G to 160 million people. That network, however, hasn’t shown world-changing speeds, because it uses a very narrow channel of 5G spectrum. In general, AT&T’s 5G system has a mean speed of about 133Mbps, according to Ookla Speedtest Intelligence, and that average mixes in some results from its faster mmWave technology.
So far, AT&T and T-Mobile have extended 5G coverage broadly across the country, but it isn’t much faster than 4G. Verizon has super-fast 5G in 35 downtown areas, but not broad coverage. That’s because none of the US carriers is widely using mid-band spectrum for 5G, which offers the best balance of speed and coverage. T-Mobile says it’s putting together a mid-band network, but has only launched that in Philadelphia and small parts of New York City.
AT&T’s performance may get better over the next few months, though, as the company recently turned on DSS, a system that dynamically flips 4G spectrum over to 5G service when it isn’t being used for 4G.
We’ve been tracking all of the carriers’ 5G announcements on our Race to 5G page.