At this time of year, the tech industry is full of New Year predictions, but second-guessing 2019 has never been easier.

In a word: 5G.

There’s already been a good half dozen ‘First 5G Launch, Ever’ announcements from carriers across the globe, but don’t expect that to start tailing off in 2019. For carriers investing millions in the most significant latest network upgrade in a decade, securing early market mover bragging rights are critical.

But if you thought there can only be one to pass the finishing line first, think again.

5G launch announcements grow

As we saw ten years ago with the launch of 4G, there are myriad ways to lay claim to a market-first network technology launch, and we’re already starting to see some of those marketing moves in action.

Back in October, Verizon Wireless announced ‘the world’s first commercial 5G service’ – a commercial deployment without 5G smartphones, or even moderate national coverage, but branded ‘5G Ultra Wideband’.

Essentially, Verizon rolled out a form of proprietary, pre-standard 5G technology as a ‘fixed wireless’ solution for home broadband, and initially across just four US cities. The carrier’s most outspoken rivals were quick to question whether the Verizon’s brand of 5G was really ‘true 5G’ at all.

Then, earlier this month, AT&T responded with the launch of its very own ‘first US mobile 5G’ deployment, a network launch using mmWave high-band spectrum – in other words, the first 5G deployment based on the latest 3GPP New Radio standards.

To ring the difference, AT&T has given its own 5G service a distinctive brand, ‘5G+’, in an attempt to differentiate this particular ‘first 5G launch’ from the earlier Verizon coup. It’s not clear what the plus in the ‘5G+’ stands for, because once again, the launch is strictly limited to parts of 12 cities across the US initially, and once again, without a 5G smartphone in sight.

Furthermore, the service has been launched on a strict invite-only basis.

AT&T has stated it will choose certain businesses and consumers to use the service for at least 90 days with a Netgear Nighthawk mobile hotspot device, no doubt to test appetite and network performance. AT&T’s rivals have been equally quick to point out that this brand of ‘launch’ is not a commercial launch at all, but something more akin to a highly publicized pilot.

To be fair, the service won’t be available to purchase until sometime ‘in the Spring’. Although AT&T has given future pricing – $70 for 15GB of data, together with a charge of $499 for the device – GlobalData’s pricing experts certainly do not expect that benchmark to stay fixed.

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Not to be outdone, rival T-Mobile USA has said multiple times that it will be the first to ‘nationwide 5G’ – the only kind, it argues, that truly counts.

So, if there’s one thing we can predict with reasonable confidence, we’re in for a year of multiple 5G firsts in 2019 – and that’s even before the end user can even begin to grasp what the technology’s actually good for.

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