If you consume data on your smartphone frequently or use it to tether to your laptop, you are likely looking forward to the 5G rollout with anticipation. Some of these 5G networks are expected to land later this year with others coming in 2019. These 5G networks will bring faster data speeds and larger data caps, both a good thing for consumers. The rollout of 5G will also bring the return of something no one likes: carrier-locked devices.
AT&T wants people to know that these carrier locked devices aren't returning to spite customers. Instead, AT&T VP of radio networks and device design Gordon Mansfield says that the carrier locking is because of limits with [early] 5G implementations. Mansfield says that the carrier locking will be prevalent because no one can get all of the 5G frequencies squeezed into one radio just yet.
The exec continues, adding, "It’s just that nobody has figured out how to cram the 28GHz 5G that Verizon and T-Mobile are using, and AT&T’s 39GHz 5G, into one box yet. And while T-Mobile and Verizon are using similar 28GHz bands, T-Mobile is also putting 5G on the 600MHz band, which Verizon is not."
If carrier locked devices are a deal breaker for you, a 4G unlocked device will be your only ticket. When 4G devices originally launched, they were carrier locked, so 5G is no different in that respect. The good news is that Mansfield doesn’t think it will take long before 5G tech matures to the point that all the frequencies needed can be crammed into one radio allowing unlocked devices to return.
It's worth noting that exactly when tablets and smartphones will land supporting 5G tech remains a mystery at this point, although some carriers and hardware OEMs have given a vague "early 2019" timeframe.