AT&T 5G test drive: It wasn't the next-generation network we were promised (2023)

AT&T 5G test drive: It wasn't the next-generation network we were promised (1)

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

American airlines were allowed to run their ad5G networkin 2019, but next-generation technology is still in its infancy. Coverage is patchy, handsets that support this technology are still few and far between, and so far high-speed equipment in the hands of consumers has not lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, this applies to AT&T 5G.

I tested for a few weeks5G network on several different devices and did not impress me at all. There are many reasons for this, and it's worth getting to know them in our short AT&T 5G review.

See also: The best 5G phones you can buy right now

What is AT&T 5G?

The 5G network includes a variety of technologies designed to reduce latency, increase speed and increase the capacity of mobile data networks. You can read our full, detailed explanation by clicking the link below.

Deep diving: What is 5G?

Currently, there are two main areas of spectrum used in the 5G network:hogwashand below 6 GHz. While mmWave, sometimes referred to as high-band spectrum, is good for primary speed (1Gbps+), it is limited by proximity to a cell tower and often direct line of sight. On the other hand, the sub-6 GHz band or mid-band is great for providing LTE-like coverage at lower speeds (100-600 Mbps). AT&T uses both.

Earlier this year, AT&T introduced a technology it calls AT&T 5G. When AT&T talks about 5G, it means below 6GHz. The Sub-6 network is available from Seattle to Miami and from San Diego to Boston. AT&T says it offers a nationwide 5G network that reaches 205 million people, though huge coverage gaps stretch from coast to coast. I'll let you look at the coverage map (above) to decide for yourself if AT&T 5G is truly offered nationwide.

AT&T claims to offer a nationwide 5G network, though huge gaps in coverage stretch from coast to coast.

AT&T also offers 5G+ under its brand name. This 5G+ service is AT&T's jargon for mmWave. AT&T's mmWave service is available in 35 markets nationwide, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore, San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and more. When AT&T says parts of these markets are covered, it means you shouldn't expect mmWave city-wide service. The 5G+ network is reserved for certain districts, such as central business districts or urban areas.

In addition to finding the right type of insurance, you also need one5G compatible phone. For AT&T, this choice is limited to LG Velvet and LG V60 models, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series, Galaxy S20 series, Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and Galaxy A71 5G.

Grab one of these phones, find 5G coverage on the map and you should be good to go, right? Not so fast (pun intended).

As we tested

I usedLG AksamitIGalaxy S20 Ultratest AT&T 5G in various locations in the New York region. The LG Velvet is only limited to 5G frequencies below 6GHz, while the S20 Ultra can connect via frequencies below 6GHz and mmWave.

I checked consumer 5G indicators (eg status bar) as well as service screens to determine coverage. That is, I looked at the 5G indicator at the top of the screen and also checked the signal strength and other indicators in the subsystem menu.

Recently I used the available Play StoreSpeed ​​test in Ooklaapp on both devices to run speed tests. In addition to Ookla, I downloaded large games from the Play Store, streamed content from YouTube and Spotify, and performed other real-world usage scenarios such as uploading photos to social media.

I didn't run hundreds of tests across the country, but stuck to one region of the country. I've run tests in various locations, both mobile and stationary, from New York to New Jersey and even central Pennsylvania.

Basically, I did my best to test AT&T 5G as consumers experience it: in their cities and neighborhoods. I do not claim to be the most comprehensive and exhaustive set of tests ever. However, I think it is representative enough for everyday use for ordinary smartphone users.

AT&T 5G Speed ​​​​Test: Resultater

AT&T 5G test drive: It wasn't the next-generation network we were promised (5)

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

In my experience, if I were a consumer excited to try 5G, I would be very disappointed.

Initially, despite the introduction of the mmWave-enabled S20 Ultra to Manhattan, we were unable to find or determine the mmWave range. This has certainly been reflected in the speeds we have seen.

In all of my AT&T 5G tests, the absolute fastest download speed we observed was 185 Mbps, and the slowest was a modest 1.79 Mbps. That's quite a reach. The average download speed was 50.1 Mb/s.

While a 185 mbps peak was great to see, it is very different from the 600 mbps I was getting atSprintIMid-band 5G T-Mobile networklast year. What's more, it's not even close to the 2Gbps speed we achievedVerizon's mmWave 5G network.

In comparison, AT&T 5G upload speeds averaged 7.33 Mbps, 36.5 Mbps maximum and 0.01 Mbps minimum.

It's worth mentioning that AT&T is in the NSA 5G rollout phase. In short, this means that AT&T still relies on LTE for some parts of the connection, especially uploading. With NSA 5G, streaming can still go over the 4G network, and it's unlikely that AT&T will fix this problem until it moves to standalone (SA) 5G.T-Mobile has recently implementedits first SA 5G network, promising faster transfer speeds.

AT&T's 5G numbers are better than 4G numbers, but not by much, and frankly not by enough.

How do these numbers compare to AT&T data?LTE4G network? They actually mean an improvement. I tested AT&T LTE in all the same places I tested 5G and got a maximum download speed of 132 Mbps, but only an average of 29.5 Mbps. Why such a low average? Most downloads were in the teens, with the lowest reading at 10 Mbps.

In the case of LTE transmission, the maximum speed reached 8.5 Mbps, the lowest 0.18 Mbps and the average 3.4 Mbps. Are AT&T's 5G numbers better than 4G numbers? Yes, but not too much and frankly not enough.

The phone matters. As mentioned, the LG Velvet can only use AT&T's sub-6GHz 5G network, which means it will hit top speeds lower than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which also uses mmWave. Granted, I haven't seen AT&T's mmWave 5G in action, but that's because I couldn't find it.

But what about real-world use, you might ask. I will say it quite bluntly. With Verizon's mmWave 5G, I was able to download movies and games larger than 1GB in less than a minute. On AT&T's 5G network (in testing), the best I've been able to do for the same content is 7.5 minutes.

See also: US 5G Plans - What Are Your Options?

Why so slowly?

AT&T 5G test drive: It wasn't the next-generation network we were promised (6)

In short, the answer is probably media aggregation. Operator aggregation is when operators combine multiple channels to effectively form one large one. The thicker the pipe, so to speak, the faster data can be pushed through it. Many LTE advanced networks allow aggregation of three carriers, combining three smaller 10 MHz or 20 MHz channels to form a 40 MHz or even 60 MHz channel. Therefore, AT&T's LTE network was able to handle a maximum speed of 132 Mbps.

Read more: Where is 5G available in the US?

Checking ServiceMode for both the Velvet and the S20 Ultra revealed a sad truth: AT&T's 5G network doesn't use carrier aggregation, at least I haven't been able to determine. The phones supported the 5G network via a single 5MHz channel, effectively killing any hope of the 5G performance we were expecting.

Technically, AT&T offers a 5G connection in the new radio standard. However, the limiting 5MHz channel limits the speed to a level not much better than LTE. It's like putting a Porsche 911 on the freeway and then setting the speed limit to 25 mph.

Will AT&T 5G get better?

Of course there is room for improvement. Over time, I expect (hope) that AT&T will add more channels to allow for proper carrier aggregation, thus opening up the network to higher speeds. The network will definitely be upgraded from NSA to SA 5G NR for easier uploads.

Until then, it's technically correct to call this service 5G, but it's not what the marketing hype has been promising consumers for years. I'll repeat what I said before here: If I were a consumer spending $1,000 on a 5G phone, I'd be annoyed by the AT&T experience.

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What about you? Got an AT&T 5G phone? If so, what are your experiences? Quickly? Slow? Tell us in the survey below.

How fast is AT&T's 5G network to you?

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