AT&T’s Ultra-Fast 5G Network Should Be Available for the iPhone 12

5G ATT Credit: AT&T
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AT&T has been known for playing some strange naming games with its cellular services, but it looks like it’s ready to start rolling out its real high-speed 5G network to the general public, which means that it should be readily available by the time Apple’s first 5G-capable iPhones arrive later this year.

AT&T has already been slowly rolling out its low-band 5G service for a while, but this is on the sub-6GHz range which doesn’t really offer the blazing fast speeds that 5G ultimately promises. Since lower frequencies offer better range and penetrate solid objects more effectively, the bulk of 5G networks will be carried by the sub-6GHz spectrum, and this is what T-Mobile’s 600MHz network is all about too.

However, AT&T has actually had the faster mmWave 5G service available in 35 cities for quite some time — a service that it brands as “5G Plus” — but the catch is that it’s only been available for select businesses and not consumers. Thanks to the impending release of Samsung’s mmWave-capable Galaxy S20 smartphones, however, AT&T has announced that it’s opening up its faster mmWave network to the public.

5G Plus mmWave

At this point, the mmWave network is going to be available solely for users of the Galaxy S20 Plus and S20 Ultra. Other 5G smartphones on AT&T won’t be supported simply because they don’t do mmWave right now — while AT&T released its first 5G phone last year in the form of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, it seems that only the Verizon version of that model supports mmWave.

AT&T is promising that its mmWave technology will offer peak download speeds of over 2Gbps, which means it’s going to be a pretty big deal if real-world tests live up to it. At this point, even AT&T acknowledges that it’s sub-6GHz network doesn’t offer a huge performance boost over its LTE network, which might be why it felt that labelling its improved LTE network as “5G E” was no big deal.

It’s worth noting that mmWave has a downside, however, in that it offers far more limited coverage due to the ultra-high frequencies that it uses — in the 24GHz to 100GHz range. This means signals don’t travel nearly as far, and they don’t go through solid objects like walls nearly as well as lower frequencies do. It’s the same issue that you may have already encountered with Wi-Fi networks, which also offer similar performance tradeoffs between speed and range as they move into higher frequencies, from 2.4GHz to 5GHz and beyond.

So even though AT&T’s mmWave “5G Plus” network will be available in 35 cities, there’s a good chance that you probably won’t be able to access it outside of core downtown business areas, especially since it was originally deployed for AT&T’s commercial partners. However, AT&T does note that it plans to build out its mmWave 5G network even further in the coming months and years, and this will probably accelerate as more mmWave-capable devices appear to drive more demand for the technology.

AT&T’s announcement doesn’t mention iPhone support for obvious reasons — not only are there no 5G iPhones yet, but there’s no official word that they’re actually coming, since Apple doesn’t disclose its roadmap. However, it’s a safe bet that with AT&T opening up mmWave to the public that it will also be available when Apple’s widely expected 5G iPhones launch in the fall, and unlike Samsung, Apple tries to build as few variations on its iPhones as possible, meaning that the entire 5G iPhone lineup will support mmWave, including the models sold for use on AT&T’s network.

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