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The speedy 5G network service we've been hearing about hasn't quite swept the nation, but it took a big step forward this week.
After months of operating 5G service in a handful of major U.S. cities, T-Mobile has launched what it's calling the first "nationwide network." But while the new footprint covers far more of the country than the old one did, it still leaves significant parts of the U.S. population without 5G connections.
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. They’ll 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.
T-Mobile's new network will cover more than 200 million people in more than 5,000 cities and towns.
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 operated 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 fact, in our testing, we found that a passing city bus or even a tree branch was enough to disrupt the signal.
T-Mobile says that won't be an issue with the new network, which operates on the 600MHz low-band spectrum. Those signals aren't stopped by those kinds of obstructions.
On the flipside, however, T-Mobile customers who bought a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone, which retails for $1,300, for use on the company's early 5G network won't be able to use those devices on the new network, because they're not designed to pick up the low-band signal.
T-Mobile hopes to remedy that situation by one day using Sprint's 5G signal, which employs a 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, provided that the merger of the two companies eventually closes. Mid-band signals also have the ability to pass through walls and other objects.
The Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission have signed off on the deal, but a number of states have filed lawsuits to stop it, arguing that merging two of the four major U.S. carriers would hurt consumers. A trial is set to start on Dec. 9 in New York.
In the meantime, Sprint and Verizon continue to expand their admittedly very small 5G networks for consumers.
Sprint's network now operates in parts of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C.
Verizon currently offers service in parts of Atlanta; Boise, Idaho; Chicago; Denver; Detroit; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; New York City; Panama City, Fla.; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Washington, D.C.
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all selling versions of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phone for use on their networks, though T-Mobile's currently only works on its old 5G network. Sprint and Verizon also offer the LG V50 ThinQ. And Verizon’s network exclusively works with the just-launched Samsung Galaxy Note10 5G and Motorola’s Moto Z3 and Z4, which can be made 5G-compatible with a $350 attachment.
But those amount to small first steps, with many more to follow. AT&T has been rolling out a 5G network, too, but only for select users and again only in parts of a few big cities.
Here’s a look at the broader 5G landscape, including which parts of the U.S. are getting 5G service first.
After months of offering 5G service only to business and other select customers, AT&T is beginning to roll it out to the general public. In late November, the company made the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G available for preorder.
AT&T is in the process of launching consumer 5G service in areas of Indianapolis; Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I.; Rochester, N.Y.; and San Diego. It plans to launch in Birmingham, Ala.; Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Las Vegas; Louisville, Ky.; Milwaukee, Wis.; New York; San Francisco; and San Jose, Calif., as well.
AT&T says it expects to have a nationwide 5G network up and running in the first half of 2020.
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 for preorder.
Sprint officially rolled out its 5G service in the Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; and Kansas City, Kan., metropolitan areas in May. It added Chicago to the mix in July. And parts of the Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., markets got service in August.
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 its nationwide network on Dec. 6. The company says it covers more than 200 million people in more than 5,000 cities and towns across America.
The carrier's 5G service previously operated only in parts of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.
Phone options: T-Mobile still sells the Galaxy S10 5G, which worked with the earlier high-band spectrum network. The company says those phones will also be compatible with Sprint's mid-band network after the two companies merge.
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 the metropolitan areas of Atlanta; Boise, Idaho; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; New York; Omaha, Neb.; Panama City, Fla.; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Washington, D.C., though in many of those cities service is currently limited to a few neighborhoods.
In total, the company has said it plans to roll out 5G service to parts of more than 30 U.S. cities this year.
Accessing the Verizon 5G network will eventually cost $10 per device on top of the fees for its 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 originally reached stores as a Verizon exclusive in May and is now being sold by all four major carriers.
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 went on sale in August, features a 6.8-inch display and the Note line’s trademark stylus. It also starts at $1,300.
The LG V50 ThinQ first went on sale through Sprint, but now Verizon is selling it, too, for $1,000.
Like 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 just yet.
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