AT&T turns on more low-band 5G, as device sales inch forward

AT&T has expanded its low-band 5G service to more than a dozen additional cities, as the carrier aims to deliver nationwide coverage in the second quarter.

On the company’s fourth quarter earnings call executives said AT&T’s low-band 5G already covers 50 million people since launching in mid-December. The latest 5G markets include:

  • Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Oxnard, and Modesto, California
  • Liberty, Georgia
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Frederick, Maryland
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Dayton, Ohio

With the newest additions, AT&T’s 5G service that’s available to consumers and uses low-band spectrum is live across 32 cities. Its 5G service over millimeter wave spectrum, which AT&T dubs 5G+, is turned on in 35 markets in the U.S., but still only offered to certain business customers.  

AT&T’s 5G+ service is the version meant to deliver super-fast speeds and low latency, but because signals can’t travel as far or penetrate as well as low-band, it’s limited to pockets of dense urban areas. The carrier hasn’t set a date for when typical consumers will be able to tap into that network, but executives have previously indicated it will happen as devices that can tap both high-band millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz spectrum come on the market.

RELATED: AT&T turns on 5G in 10 markets using low band

Although all four major U.S. carriers launched 5G services over the last year, 5G device uptake is still minimal, according to weekly 5G adoption tracking data by M Science. In terms of 5G devices, AT&T offers the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, which supports sub-6 GHz.  

M Science tracks three 5G devices sold by Verizon (Samsung Galaxy S10, Note 10+ and LG V50 ThinQ), three from Sprint (S10, LG and One Plus 7 Pro) and two from T-Mobile (Galaxy Note, One Plus 7T Pro 5G McLaren).

The analysis shows that for the week ending January 25, 5G device penetration in the U.S. was 2.49%, a slight increase from 2.3% the week prior, but with weekly units totaling less than 20,000.

The team, led by TMT senior analyst Mark Bachman said the increase wasn’t material, as week over week 5G unit sales only grew by 1,200.

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon each expand 5G service to new markets

Across the four biggest postpaid carriers, total 5G handset volumes were up 6.7% week over week, with T-Mobile leading the pack selling 7,700 followed by AT&T selling 6,300. Verizon, meanwhile, sold 4,400 5G devices for the week ending Jan. 25, and Sprint sold just over 700, according to the analysis.

AT&T only opened up 5G to consumers in mid-December with one compatible 5G smartphone, but had the second highest share of 5G devices in the latest week at 35.6%, behind T-Mobile who remained the leader with 40%. Verizon nabbed 22.9% share, while Sprint is at 3.8%, according to the report.

“Overall, the 5G market has remained relatively stable over the past three weeks as there have been no new launches at any of the major postpaid carriers,” wrote the M Analysis team.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Verizon dominated the weekly US market share of unit sales from May until December, before T-Mobile and AT&T launched their respective low-band 5G networks in late 2019. All of Verizon’s 5G devices only support millimeter wave 5G, while AT&T’s consumer option only supports the low-band variety.

AT&T executives have previously said they expect a bump in 5G handset adoption during the second half of 2020, when popular devices, like an expected 5G iPhone, are available and coverage is more widespread.