The rollout of a new cellular data standard is rarely a cheap endeavor, but AT&T’s early pricing for its brand-new 5G service is raising eyebrows even so. The company declared itself the first firm to make mobile 5G service live today, thanks to its new service in parts of 12 cities. The network, which officially activates on December 21, will establish AT&T as “the first and only company in the U.S. to offer a mobile 5G device over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network.”
Here’s what that means: You now have the opportunity to pay $500 for a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, which converts a 5G signal into an 802.11ac or 802.11ax wireless hotspot. Tethering via USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) linkage is also available. Battery life details and capacity are not yet available, so we don’t know how long the hotspot lasts (the Netgear Nighthawk 5G contains a Snapdragon 855 SoC and X50 modem, according to Anandtech).
Once you’ve shucked out $500 for the hardware, you have your choice of one data plan — $70 per month, for 15GB of data. The one advantage of this, I suppose, is that it’s literally better than the $10/GB pricing that AT&T and its ilk were pushing back a few years ago. But at 5G data rates — commonly advertised as 1Gbps and up — you can burn through all 15GB of data in about two minutes, assuming your connection is as fast as AT&T claims it could be. Then again, AT&T charges $50/month for 10GB of 4G data, which does technically make this a better deal, at $4.67/GB as opposed to $5/GB.
Either way, both the data limits and the pricing per GB are absurd for a product that comes with a mandatory $500 purchase fee. Service will only be offered to select customers and businesses for the first part of 2019, in parts of the following cities to start with:
Atlanta, GACharlotte, NCDallas, TXHouston TXIndianapolis, INJacksonville, FLLouisville, KYOklahoma City, OKNew Orleans, LARaleigh, NCSan Antonio, TXWaco, TX
Service should expand into the parts of these additional cities through the first half of 2019:
Las Vegas, NVLos Angeles, CANashville, TNOrlando, FLSan Diego, CASan Francisco, CASan Jose, CA
AT&T has yet to state what speeds its 5G users should expect, and for now, the service is hotspot-only, with no support for mobile devices since no 5G handsets exist. Don’t expect 5G service to ever be cheap — AT&T and other executives are already salivating over new billing models that allow them to charge for premium 5G service tiers for, say, low latency gaming access.
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