AT&T goes for Verizon's jugular with a big 5G upgrade while unveiling modest 2021 rollout plans

AT&T goes for Verizon's jugular with a big 5G upgrade while unveiling modest 2021 rollout plans
In response to both Verizon and T-Mobile laying out their long-term 5G network advancement and expansion plans in greater detail than ever before earlier this week, AT&T is ready to make two big related announcements of its own.

Unlike the competition, however, the third-largest wireless service provider in the US is primarily focusing on near-term changes and upgrades, unveiling its somewhat vague and unimpressive 2021 5G strategy in addition to introducing a major plan revision set to come into effect as soon as "this month."

5G for (pretty much) everybody


It's no longer a big secret that Ma Bell doesn't have the resources to match T-Mobile's near-flawless balance between 5G speeds and availability (now or anytime soon), but what the operator can do is offer more customers complimentary 5G and 5G+ access than Verizon.

Big Red, mind you, is currently restricting its blazing fast 5G Ultra Wideband network to folks willing to pay a monthly premium on Play More, Do More, and Get More Unlimited plans, a strategy the industry-leading cellular company fully intends to keep in place even after its newly acquired C-band spectrum will be commercially deployed.

While AT&T hasn't followed Verizon's suit in separating the mmWave-based 5G+ signal from its slower low-band 5G technology for monetary gain, the two next-gen networks are only accessible on Unlimited Starter, Extra, and Elite plans.


That's now set to change starting sometime this month, when AT&T subscribers on older and often cheaper Unlimited, Unlimited Value, Unlimited Plus, Plus Enhanced, Choice, Choice II, Choice Enhanced, Unlimited & More, and Unlimited & More Premium plans will get free invites to the 5G (and 5G+) party without having to lift a finger or jump through any sort of hoops whatsoever.

Obviously, you'll need to own (or purchase) a 5G-enabled device and live in a 5G-covered area to enjoy the highest download speeds AT&T (theoretically) has to offer after receiving a text message or email informing you of your plan's complimentary upgrade. 

The same perk will also be added to a bunch of AT&T Business unlimited options starting in April, including Unlimited Choice for Business, Unlimited Plus for Business, Business Unlimited Basic, Business Unlimited Plus, Business Unlimited Enhanced, Business Unlimited Basic with Private Wi-Fi, Business Unlimited Plus with Private Wi-Fi, Business Unlimited Enhanced with Private Wi-Fi, and Business Unlimited Preferred.

Basically, if you're on an unlimited AT&T plan, be it new or old, for individuals or businesses, you should soon be able to tap into the carrier's 5G and 5G+ networks without having to spend an arm and a leg.

Modest but palpable 5G rollout objectives


After covering 230 million people, at least in theory, with "nationwide" (read sluggish low-band) 5G already, AT&T aims to begin deploying part of the 80mhz of C-band spectrum recently won at auction by the end of 2021.

That's certainly an aggressive timeline, but in the long run, Verizon is expected to easily beat its arch-rival's mid-band 5G availability. According to Cnet, AT&T wants to hit a C-band 5G coverage goal of anywhere between 70 and 75 million people by the end of 2022 before boosting that number to "over" 100 million Americans at some point in "early 2023."


For comparison and scale, we should point out T-Mobile wrapped up 2020 with more than 100 million people covered by its Ultra Capacity (aka mid-band) 5G signal, already improving that towering figure to 125 million so far this year.

Unfortunately for Ma Bell, its Verizon Ultra Wideband-rivaling mmWave resources remain fairly limited as well, merely allowing the carrier to make promises of 5G+ launches in 17 new sports and entertainment venues, 7 airports, and more than 30 company-owned retail locations in 2021. That's... better than nothing, we guess, and at least AT&T expects to pull off these rollouts in the somewhat near future rather than two or three years down the line.

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