AT&T and Mobile 5G: The ‘Puck’ Starts Here

Will start to deploy small, 5G-facing router-like device in about a dozen markets later this year


AT&T is preparing to launch “mobile” 5G service by the end of 2018 in about a dozen markets, but the initial deployment won’t involve direct integration with laptops, smartphones or tablets.

Rather, AT&T will initially lean on a small router-like device that can connect other devices to the 5G network.

“Think of this as a puck,” Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman, president and CEO, explained Wednesday (January 31) on the company’s Q4 earnings call.

He reasoned that AT&T wants to push mobile 5G forward before handsets that support the next-gen wireless technology become available.

“The thing [that’s] going to cause 5G to go slow, more than anything else – it’s just avaialbity of handsets,” he said, adding later that AT&T will be “pushing the vendors” to ramp up their work with 5G-ready handsets.

AT&T hasn’t said much else about how these 5G pucks will work or what they will cost, but placing them under the “mobile” label seems a bit of a stretch. I agree with Light Reading’s Dan Jones, who views this more of a “nomadic” approach, rather than something that contains all the aspects of what one would expect from a truly integrated mobile offering. 

Stephenson also talked up the fixed wireless capabilities of 5G, which has been AT&T’s initial focus on the technology and its stance that 5G can deliver gigabit-level performance.

“The use case [for 5G] I get most excited about is the opportunity to have a nearly nationwide broadband footprint,” Stephenson said, adding that 5G “could be a fixed-line replacement for both business and residential customers.

“The capacity is there, the performance is there. There’s going to be full gigabit throughput,” he said.

He also noted that AT&T is also looking forward to deploying millimeter wave spectrum from its FiberTower acquisition, noting that it will provide an average of nearly 360 MHz of nationwide spectrum, even with a settlement with the FCC that will return some spectrum to the agency factored in.

“Millimeter wave is critical for our 5G strategy and we’ll be putting this spectrum to work later this year,” he said, hopeful that it will give AT&T a quantum leap in both capacity and performance.”

Verizon And AT&T Race To Launch 5G Hotspot Pucks, T-Mobile Says You’re ‘Pucking Kidding Me’

by Brandon Hill — Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If everything goes according to plan, we will begin seeing the first 5G wireless services and devices capable of taking advantage of the bandwidth later this year. According to both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, initial commercial 5G deployments will begin later this year.

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.”


U.S. Wireless Carriers Plan to Launch 5G With ‘Pucks’ Not Phones

Joe Mayes and Scott Moritz

February 26, 2018, 12:51 PM PST

AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., conceding that phones won’t be available in time for the launch of fifth-generation mobile service this year, plan instead to offer 5G through portable hotspots called pucks.

“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,” Verizon’s wireless chief, Ronan Dunne, said Monday in an interview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “If there’s anything available in 2018, it’s more likely to be a hotspot.”

In a race to be first with technology that will let cars drive themselves and robots perform surgery, the wireless service providers, including No. 3 T-Mobile US Inc., have announced ambitious timelines on the launch of 5G. Sticking with the plan even if phones aren’t ready highlights how none of the carriers wants to be left behind in what’s expected to be a whole new round of revenue from the sale of advanced-network services.

Equipment makers like Ericsson AB and Nokia Oyj are eagerly developing 5G gear to cash in on the building boom. But new networks will need new phones, and that’s where the race hits hurdles.

Among the first crop of 5G phones will be handsets from China-based manufacturers like Huawei Technologies Co., Xiaomi Corp. and ZTE Corp. Both Huawei and ZTE face a roadblock in the U.S. amid concerns the companies possible ties to the Chinese government could pose a security risk. ZTE says it will have a 5G phone available as early as year-end. Verizon and AT&T both dropped plans to carry Huawei phones.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, introduced the idea of the puck during the company’s earnings call last month. A puck is portable antenna that allows a user to connect a mobile device to the new super-fast wireless network.

“The thing that’s going to cause 5G to go slow, more than anything else, it’s just availability of handsets,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to be deploying pucks in the first part of our deployment.”

AT&T’s ‘Mobile’ 5G: What the Puck?

AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson shed a little bit more light on the — ahem — mobile “puck” that the operator will offer with its first mobile 5G network, expected in late 2018, on the company’s earnings call Wednesday evening.

Surprise, surprise, it surely sounds like a router for distributing the 5G signal among various WiFi devices, which is fair enough, but not really a “mobile” device to my mind. Here’s the full quote:

“It’s not going to be a handset, because handsets just aren’t available, think of this as a puck,” Stephenson said on the call. Commercial 5G smartphones aren’t expected until sometime in 2019. (See AT&T to Spend Trump Tax Bump on Fiber, 5G ‘Foundation’.)

Call me old-fashioned — hell, call me “Cyril” for all I care — but I think of a moveable signal router as a classically nomadic device not a mobile device, since you’re likely supporting PCs, laptops and the like with the signal from the 5G “puck.”

Personally, I feel a 5G mobile device should be either be a smartphone or a tablet — at least right now. Eventually a 5G connected car will probably count as a mobile device too of course, but not in late 2018.

Maybe I’m being too much of a stickler? Let me know in the comments below.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

AT&T CEO says the first 5G devices will be ‘pucks’

AT&T says the biggest bottleneck in the spread of next-generation wireless tech is the lack of 5G smartphones.

Don’t expect to make a phone call on the first 5G devices.

AT&T has set a goal of launching its super-fast next-generation cellular network in a dozen markets by the end of the year. But the first 5G devices won’t be phones, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said on a conference call on Wednesday, telling investors they should instead expect “pucks” that work like mobile hotspots.

That makes a lot of sense, since phone makers and component manufacturers are still working to get everything aligned for 5G phones. The chip makers say the first 5G-compatible radio small enough for a phone won’t likely appear until early next year, which is why some scratched their heads about AT&T’s push to get 5G out this year.

5G pucks, which would work like portable modems, could offer a taste of the network’s amped-up speeds.

Talk of 5G is at a fevered pitch because it’s supposed to transform our world with faster and more reliable wireless coverage. 5G is seen as the technology that will serve as the foundation for other trends, such as self-driving cars and streaming virtual reality and augmented reality experiences.

It’s also getting closer to becoming a reality.

There’s a race and a war of words between carriers over who can get to 5G first. Verizon is investing in 5G as a broadband replacement service and plans to launch commercial service this year, as well. AT&T touts its 5G as the first mobile version of the technology, while T-Mobile has committed to building a nationwide network by 2020, and accused both AT&T and Verizon of overhyping the technology.

Stephenson noted the low availability of handsets will be the biggest hurdle early on. The situation is similar to the debut of LTE networks, which first saw laptop modems before smartphones took advantage of the faster network.

Beyond the mobile network, Stephenson said the prospect of building a nationwide broadband network running on 5G is what excites him the most. He said he could see 5G replacing traditional fixed line internet connections in the future.

“I get very energized about the opportunity in the next few years to build out a nationwide broadband network,” he said.


AT&T: Mobile 5G in 2018, Sort Of; Puck 5G in 2018, Definitely


Less than a month ago, AT&T issued a press release stating they would be first to mobile 5G, proclaiming the next generation mobile service will be available on their network by the end of 2018. Most other 5G discussions for 2018 have focused on fixed broadband services.

AT&T offered a little more detail on their mobile 5G plans during their quarterly earnings report conference call. Turns out, they may have initially embellished a bit on the term ‘mobile.’

When describing mobile 5G, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson hedged a bit, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “But as you begin to think about mobile solutions, we will be deploying mobile solutions in 2018 and it’s going to be in 12 markets, that’s what we’ve been doing. Think of this as a puck. Because, really, the thing is going to cause 5G to go slow more than anything else, it’s just availability of handsets,” he said during questioningfrom Wall Street analysts.

It’s not entirely clear what Stephenson meant by “puck.” At first I wondered if this were a NHL great Wayne Gretzky analogy, as in “skate to where the puck is going.” But I think not. I would assume Stephenson is referring to a portable 5G capable router (similar in size to a hockey puck), sometimes referred to as a “MiFi” device, or mobile hotspot. These devices allow other devices to connect to them via Wi-Fi, for 5G connectivity in this case.

“So, that’s why we’re going to be [deploying] pucks in the first part of our deployment in these 12 markets, so it is a mobile solution,” said Stephenson. “But it’s not going to be a handset.”

It makes sense. When AT&T first announced their mobile 5G plans, they were a little light on the details. Handset availability is clearly an issue. Although there is accelerated progress on the 5G standards front, 5G capable handsets are not on the immediate horizon. This ‘puck’ approach is common with early next-generation wireless technology. I vividly remember the first 3G “pucks.”

But is this what most people consider mobile? Technically speaking, you can make the argument it’s a mobile service. But for most people, mobile is synonymous with smartphones. And 5G smartphones won’t be widely available in 2018, if at all. We’re going to have to wait some time for that.