Networking

AT&T, Verizon will launch 5G mobile hotspots before launching 5G smartphones

5G phones won't be available in time for the launch of the mobile service, but portable hotspots will, the companies said at Mobile World Congress.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • AT&T and Verizon will offer 5G mobile services in 2018 through portable hotspots called pucks.
  • 5G phones will not be available until the first half of 2019, according to Verizon.

It appears that 5G service will be available before 5G phones hit the market, according to news from AT&T and Verizon out of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week. However, in the meantime, the two telecom providers plan to offer the fifth-generation mobile service through portable hotspots called pucks.

"I would expect that there are a range of handsets available in 2019 and some of those will be in the first half of 2019," Ronan Dunne, Verizon's wireless chief, told Bloomberg during an interview at MWC. "If there's anything available in 2018, it's more likely to be a hotspot."

Wireless providers including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have been racing to launch 5G networks by the end of 2018. Keeping to this timeline, even if phones aren't yet available, demonstrates how none of these carriers wants to be left out of the likely revenue boost these networks will cause, Bloomberg noted.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

Once commercially available, 5G is poised to revolutionize computing across a number of industries, including energy, manufacturing, and healthcare. In the meantime, hotspots could offer businesses a way to tap into the high-speed network ahead of time.

AT&T first brought up the potential for a hotspot puck during a company earnings call in January, Bloomberg noted. The hotspot would involve a portable antenna that allows a user to connect a mobile device to a 5G network.

"The thing that's going to cause 5G to go slow, more than anything else, it's just availability of handsets," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the call. "That's why we're going to be deploying pucks in the first part of our deployment."

A number of companies are now working on 5G headsets and phones, including Intel, Ericsson, and Nokia.

The first crop of 5G phones will likely be handsets from China-based manufacturers such as Huawei, Xiaomi, and ZTE. However, Huawei and ZTE face challenges in terms of US adoption due to security concerns around the companies' ties to the Chinese government, Bloomberg noted. ZTE reports that it will have 5G phones available as early as the end of 2018.

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Image: iStockphoto/Andranik Hakobyan

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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