Why AT&T's 5G Evolution Has Little to Do With Real 5G Wireless

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Why AT&T's 5G Evolution Has Little to Do With Real 5G Wireless

AT&T this week announced that it was launching a new service to select markets across the United States called 5G Evolution. But its name is the closest to 5G as the technology will ever get. While it will deliver faster speeds than users ordinarily would find on 4G LTE, 5G Evolution won’t offer the kinds of speeds customers would hope to find on a real 5G network. In fact, it’s not even running on the same technology 5G networks are expected to use when the real service starts arriving within the next five years. But that’s just the start of the quirks and caveats AT&T customers should know about. This slide show will provide more detail about AT&T’s new 5G Evolution and the limitations users can expect if they qualify for the program.

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What Is 5G Evolution, Anyway?

The term 5G Evolution is really a misnomer. The technology isn’t actually 5G or anything related to it. It’s simply a step up from AT&T’s 4G LTE network. AT&T says 5G Evolution is a way for it to “continue to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G” while the mobile industry works on getting the new protocol ready to deploy.

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5G Evolution Doesn't Run on Real 5G Technology

AT&T referred to 4x4 MIMO antennas and 256 quadrature amplitude modulation in its 5G Evolution press release. Neither of those technologies will be part of 5G; the technology is expected to use millimeter-wave band transmission. But that might change as technical standards for 5G networks continue to be developed.

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Mobile Users Will See Faster Service Speeds

AT&T didn’t get specific in its press release about what kind of speeds customers can expect from 5G Evolution connections. However, the company did say it anticipates the observed speeds will be twice those of 4G LTE.

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Here’s Where It’s Available

AT&T announced April 25 that 5G Evolution is launching in Austin, Texas. Customers in the city and some surrounding areas who have qualifying plans and devices will connect automatically to the high-speed network. AT&T plans to roll it out to other cities in the coming months.

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Here’s Where It’s Going

In its statement, AT&T said it plans to next bring the technology to Indianapolis in the summer. After that, 5G Evolution will roll out to more than 20 metro areas including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco. AT&T didn’t say when the rollouts in those markets will happen.

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Most, But Not All Customers Will Get Access

AT&T said most of its customers will be eligible to jump on its 5G Evolution network, but only those with supporting data networks. The company is expected to provide more information on ineligible data plans and any changes to that policy in the coming months.

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There’s a Device Limitation

Here’s a biggie: Not all smartphones or tablets will work on 5G Evolution. In fact, currently only Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will be capable of connecting to the network. So, those with tablets, iPhones, mobile hotspots and many other incompatible devices will be out of luck.

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AT&T Will Support More Hardware Over Time

AT&T tried to allay some fears about its device compatibility by noting that while Samsung’s handsets currently are the only supported products, the company plans to work with hardware makers and “offer numerous other devices” that can run on 5G Evolution in the coming months.

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AT&T Says It Will Keep Improving Connectivity

Beyond the rollout of 5G Evolution, AT&T confirmed it will continue upgrading its network in anticipation of 5G. That means AT&T customers should expect faster speeds and, in some areas, better coverage as the carrier inches closer to its big network upgrade.

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The Work on Real 5G Continues

All this talk of 5G Evolution might make some wonder what AT&T has planned for actual 5G. Like other carriers, AT&T continues to test the technology that ultimately will be used to deliver 5G to customers. But, it’s waiting for standards bodies to finalize specs and its network likely won’t be fully operational for years.

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