Move over T-Mobile, you're no longer the only nationwide 5G network in town. AT&T announced Thursday that it has added 5G in 40 more markets; as a result, the country's second-largest wireless provider now covers 205 million Americans with its 5G signal. Helping AT&T speed up the process so quickly was the launch last month of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) in parts of Florida and Texas. DSS responds in real-time to demand on AT&T's network for either 4G LTE or 5G spectrum. Thus the use of the word "Dynamic" in DSS.
AT&T spent $1 billion to buy more 5G spectrum during the second quarter
With DSS, the same channel can be employed for 4G and 5G users at the same time. The technology is "traffic-aware" so 4G LTE and 5G resources are allocated based on the makeup of the traffic. Using its 850MHz low-band spectrum, AT&T's coast-to-coast 5G can be found in 395 markets. T-Mobile's nationwide 5G uses the carrier's 600MHz low-band spectrum and can be accessed by 225 million people, 20 million more than AT&T. Besides offering 5G over its low-band spectrum, in limited parts of 35 markets, AT&T's 5G+ service employs its faster mmWave spectrum.
On August 7th, AT&T will offer its 5G service to customers of its least expensive unlimited plan at no additional cost. The Unlimited Starter postpaid plan costs $140 for 4 lines ($35 per line/per month). Customers on more expensive unlimited plans already had 5G service. The wireless provider's prepaid customers will also have access to 5G via the Unlimited Plus plan, which costs $75 per month or $50 with autopay. That service also begins on August 7th.
Chris Sambar, Executive Vice President of Technology Operations said, "Our strategy of deploying 5G in both sub-6 (5G) and mmWave (5G+) spectrum bands will provide the best mix of speeds, latency and coverage that are needed to enable revolutionary new capabilities to fuel 5G experiences for consumers and businesses. Our competitors are still working to provide that same mix, which for them could take months or even years. What we offer is available to consumers and businesses today, and we’re not slowing down."
5G phones that AT&T sells include the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G, the Galaxy S20 series, the Galaxy A71 5G, and the LG V60 ThinQ 5G. The LG Velvet 5G is now available and orders for the Galaxy Z Flip 5G will start shipping on August 7. Customers of AT&T's Cricket Wireless prepaid brand will be able to activate 5G service on a Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G starting on August 21st.
While all three major carriers plan on using low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum to build-out their 5G networks, right now T-Mobile is the only one using mid-band airwaves for 5G thanks to the 2.5GHz spectrum it took control of after closing on the Sprint merger. Keep in mind that the merger was always about obtaining those assets from Sprint. Verizon is focusing on its mmWave spectrum which is why it is taking so long for it to complete. You see, the 600MHz and 850MHz airwaves used by T-Mobile and AT&T respectively, travel farther and penetrate structures better than mmWave spectrum. The latter, though, delivers faster data speeds and can handle larger amounts of traffic than low-band spectrum.
While mid-band spectrum is rare in the states, all three carriers will take part in an auction of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) for 3.5GHz spectrum that is shared with the Navy in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). However, purchasing a PAL will allow a carrier to have first crack at using the spectrum.
AT&T also announced today that it spent $1 billion to buy new spectrum that will be used for its 5G network. At the same time, the company said that it lost 151,000 postpaid subscribers during the second quarter. But that figure includes 338,000 subscribers that AT&T counts as a lost subscriber because they didn't pay their bills. But AT&T continued to deliver service to these accounts during the quarter because of the Keep America Connected Pledge that the wireless firms agreed to in March. Under the pledge, customers who could not pay their bill were not given the boot, late charges were waived, and non-customers had access to a carrier's mobile hotspot. The Keep America Connected Pledge expired on June 30th, the last day of the third quarter.