However, the first devices that America's two largest wireless carrier will market will not be smartphone. Instead, they will be mobile 5G hotspots that can connect to your smartphone, tablet, or notebook computer. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson conceded this point in late January, stating that his company would be offering Wi-Fi "pucks" to customers to coincide with lighting up its 5G network.
"It's not going to be a handset, because handsets just aren't available, think of this as a puck," said Stephenson during the company's earnings call.
Both AT&T and Verizon acknowledge that 5G smartphones won't be available by the end of this year, so mobile hotspots are the next best thing. “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,” said Ronan Dunne, Verizon's mobile chief at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
“If there’s anything available in 2018, it’s more likely to be a hotspot.”
Going the mobile hotspot route isn't exactly ideal, as it is yet another device that you have to carry around to stay connected. However, for early adopters that just must have the latest and the greatest, it's a palatable in-between solution until the first 5G-capable smartphones start hitting the market with their own built-in hotspot capabilities.
Over the past few months, we've seen the 5G drumbeat quicken in pace with both Intel and Qualcomm announcing more mature hardware to leverage the wireless standard. And even today, T-Mobile announced that it will build out its 5G network across 30 cities beginning this year, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas. The network will become operational when the first 5G smartphones for the company's network launch in early 2019.
Not surprisingly, T-Mobile's enthusiastic CEO heard of the news of AT&T and Verizon's race to offer a compromised 5G hardware solution and couldn't help but comment. “Dumb and Dumber are in a meaningless race to be first. Their so-called 5G isn’t mobile, and it’s not even on a smartphone. It’s a puck?! You gotta be pucking kidding me!” said T-Mobile's John Legere.
“While the Duopoly focus on bragging rights, we focus on customers. T-Mobile has massively bigger plans for a truly transformative 5G experience on your smartphone nationwide. We’re playing the long game ... the only game that matters.”