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AT&T 5G moves forward, as carrier pursues cost savings

The AT&T 5G network will be in seven more cities in the first half of 2019. The carrier is moving quickly with the rollout to take advantage of potential cost savings with 5G.

AT&T plans to offer in the spring a 5G mobile hotspot for consumers and roll out the high-speed wireless service in seven additional cities, as the carrier positions itself for a 5G market that isn't expected to take off until 2020.

AT&T said this week it would start selling the Netgear Nighthawk hotspot for $499, plus $70 a month for 15 GB of data. The monthly fee would start after a 90-day trial at no charge. AT&T plans to launch the device and service in the spring.

Meanwhile, in the first half of 2019, the vendor will add seven cities to the AT&T 5G mobile network, bringing the total to 19. The new cities scheduled to have the service include Las Vegas; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; and Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

The AT&T 5G rollout is plowing ahead in the United States, as manufacturers, such as Samsung, prepare to launch supporting Android smartphones. Analysts expect several phones to be available by mid-2019, but how they will compare to today's 4G phones in design and features remains to be seen.

One hurdle to a competitive 5G phone is a more complex chipset that results in a larger phone and less battery life. Apple plans to wait at least until 2020 before launching a 5G iPhone due, in part, to the immaturity of the technology, according to the Bloomberg news agency.

Carriers save big on wireless 5G

Nevertheless, AT&T and Verizon, which plans to launch its 5G mobile network next year, are unlikely to slow down their rollouts, said Chris Antlitz, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., based in Hampton, N.H. That's because delivering a high-speed internet service over 5G technology is a lot cheaper than on 4G.

"5G will be widely deployed across the states, and it's going to be deployed as fast as the telcos can get it out," Antlitz said. "5G is far superior from a cost-per-gigabyte perspective compared to 4G."

Analysts do not believe telcos will launch unique 5G services. Instead, consumers will swap their current service for the newer one, which will provide a bump in speed at no additional cost.

"Our thought is prices will not go up," Antlitz said. "If anything, the prices might actually come down."

For the latter to happen, carriers would have to decide to pass on a portion of the cost savings of 5G to customers.

While analysts expect to see progress in 2019, carriers won't make significant revenue from wireless 5G in the United States.

"I would say 5G will be a big deal in 2020," Antlitz said.

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