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The speedy 5G network service we've been hearing about hasn't quite swept the nation, but its footprint grows larger by the month.
All four of the major U.S. carriers now have some form of consumer 5G service up and running. And smartphone makers continue to announce new devices, including models that may soon cost less than $500, thanks to new cheaper 5G chips. (See TCL and Coolpad models below.)
According to telecommunications experts, 5G speeds—five times faster than 4G connections at peak performance—will eventually allow users to download a movie in just 5 seconds.
The technology will also pave the way for the instantaneous response times required to safely perform robotic surgery and operate self-driving cars that communicate with other vehicles and road infrastructure.
But, while experts say 5G networks made tremendous progress in 2019, they still have a long way to go to reach those lofty goals. And that's what 2020 is all about.
"We're in a phase right now where there's a lot of hype around 5G," said Phil Solis, a tech analyst for the market research firm IDC, at CES in Las Vegas. "But the reality doesn't match the hype just yet."
Here's a rundown on the 5G service of the major carriers and the latest 5G-compatible phones.
After months of offering 5G service only to business and select customers, AT&T is beginning to roll it out to the general public in areas of Baltimore; Birmingham, Ala.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Detroit; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Milwaukee; New York City; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Diego; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; and Washington, D.C.
The company says it plans to have a national network up and running sometime in the first half of this year.
While AT&T says it won't charge extra for 5G service, you have to sign up for the Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite plans to access it.
Phone options: AT&T started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G to business customers earlier this year. The Galaxy Note10+ 5G is now available to consumers.
Sprint has 5G service up and running in parts of the Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Kansas City, Kan., Los Angeles; New York City; Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas.
Sprint says it won't charge extra for 5G service, but you’re required to sign up for the carrier’s Unlimited Premium plan, which at $85 for one line is the company’s most expensive option.
Phone options: Sprint carries the LG V50 ThinQ, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. It says it will carry the Note10+ 5G “at a later date.”
T-Mobile launched what it's calling the first "nationwide 5G network" in December. The company says it covers more than 200 million people in more than 5,000 cities and towns across the U.S., but that still leaves significant portions of the population without 5G connections.
The company's previous network, which launched over the summer, operated in parts of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York. But it ran on a high-band spectrum, and as a result, the 5G signal didn't have the same ability to travel through walls and other common obstacles.
In our testing, a passing city bus or even a tree branch was enough to disrupt the signal.
T-Mobile says that won't be a problem with the new network, which operates on the 600MHz low-band spectrum. Those signals aren't stopped by such obstructions.
Phone options: T-Mobile customers who bought a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone last year for use on the company's early 5G network won't be able to use the device on the new network, because it's not designed to pick up the low-band signal.
But T-Mobile says those phones will be compatible with Sprint's midband network, provided that the merger of the two companies eventually closes. Midband signals also have the ability to pass through walls and other objects.
For the new nationwide network, T-Mobile is selling the Note10+ 5G and the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren.
The carrier’s 5G service has officially started in areas of Atlanta; Boise, Idaho; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; Greensboro, N.C.; Hoboken, N.J.; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Miami; Minneapolis; New York; Omaha, Neb.; Panama City, Fla.; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Spokane, Wash.; and Washington, D.C.
Accessing the Verizon 5G network will eventually cost $10 per device on top of the fees for the carrier's Play More, Do More, and Get More Unlimited plans. Verizon is currently waiving those charges for a limited time.
The 5G service will be unlimited as well, and Verizon says there will be no throttling of data speeds even when the network gets busy. Carriers, including Verizon, sometimes slow down data speeds to decrease network congestion.
You can also tether your laptop to a 5G-enabled phone for use as a hot spot without paying an extra charge.
Phone options: Verizon carries the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, and Motorola Moto Z4.
The Galaxy S10 5G reached stores as a Verizon exclusive in May, but it's now widely available.
The S10 5G, which comes in black and silver, starts at $1,300 for a version with 256 gigabytes of storage. Boosting the storage to 512GB will cost you $100 more.
The phone features a 6.7-inch display. It has six cameras, including a 3D depth camera, and can create videos in portrait mode. All of that is powered by a monster 4,500-milliamp-hour battery.
The Note10+ 5G, which launched in August, is now being sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. It features a 6.8-inch display and the Note line’s trademark stylus. It also starts at $1,300.
The LG V50 ThinQ is available through Sprint and Verizon for about $1,000.
As with the V40 ThinQ before it, the V50 has five cameras—two on the front and three on the back. It also boasts a 4,000mAh battery, stereo boom-box speaker, and 6.4-inch OLED display.
The Z4, which retails for $500, boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display and a 3,600mAh battery, making it considerably bigger and more powerful than the Z3. That phone has a 6-inch display and a 2,000mAh battery.
The Z3 also works with Verizon's network but is no longer listed for sale on the company's website.
Sprint carries the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, while T-Mobile is offering the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren.
Both of these phones are new, and our testers haven't had a chance to try them out yet.
During CES, TCL, known best for TVs, announced its first 5G smartphone: the TCL 10 5G.
The company didn't reveal much in the way of details, saying that full specs will be released when the phone officially launches next month at Mobile World Congress in Spain.
But the TCL 10 5G will be powered by Qualcomm's recently announced 7-Series 5G chip, which is geared toward lower-priced devices. It also will have four rear cameras and a high-quality display.
The model is set to go on sale in the second quarter of this year.
This company, which makes smartwatches for kids, also announced a 5G phone—for adults—during CES. Coolpad says it will have a starting price of less than $400.
Also set to go on sale in the second quarter of this year, the phone, which doesn't appear to have an official name just yet, will have a 6.5-inch display and a 4,000mAh battery.
Like the TCL 10, it will include the new Qualcomm 5G chip and launch in the second quarter of this year.
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