When can you start using 5G?
It really depends on where you live. Carriers have been working on 5G for around a decade now, and certain wireless providers are beginning to offer it for a select few devices in specific areas. As a result, some areas in the United States have already adopted this lightning-quick connection, while other areas are still working diligently to continue building out 5G networks so everyone can jump on board. Eventually, it will be deployed across the entire country, but that will undoubtedly end up taking a couple of years to complete.
Currently, providers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have all begun allowing for the usage of 5G around the United States. AT&T has made it available in 20 cities, with wider coverage coming later this year. T-Mobile is expected to debut nationwide coverage as early as 2020. Meanwhile, Verizon has mobile and fixed 5G available in several areas, but hasn’t committed to a specific date for users to look forward to using strict 5G coverage. At the time of this writing, Verizon is in the process of switching all its towers to LTE-only. But if you’re in one of the few areas that don’t have LTE coverage, you’ll have to hope you can roam onto a T-Mobile or AT&T tower, and you may experience issues with sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages.
But how do carriers choose which cities end up getting 5G first? It isn’t as simple as just selecting a place on a map or throwing a dart, though sometimes it might feel that way. According to Singleton, the team chooses “high population cities where we have a large customer base, critical mass of 2.5 GHz cell sites, and the spectrum needed” to execute their rollout plan.
“As with all new system rollouts, we will continue to optimize performance and add new capabilities and enhancements that increase speed and capacity,” said Singleton.
Unfortunately, there is no precise period of time that we can estimate for a complete 5G rollout or when it will be fully deployed for everyone in the country. Given that most smartphones aren’t yet capable of supporting the speeds 5G offers, nor is every city ready to support the infrastructures required to bring it to fruition, the current window is late 2019 and early 2020 for most carriers to begin their planned expansions throughout the U.S.
All that said, it probably isn’t going to benefit you to rush out and upgrade your phone to one that supports 5G right away. It’s far too early in the game at this point to worry about adopting the new tech, and things are bound to change even more over the tumultuous initial introductory period for the tech.
For now, the best advice as far as when you can expect 5G in your area is to “wait and see.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a schedule to rely on just yet that you can check and see to plan your possible next gadget purchase. The tech hasn’t yet reached the stage where it’s going to be reliable, affordable, or widely available for the whole of smartphone-toting customers across the country.