After literal years of breathless hype, 5G is finally set to arrive. Verizon is rolling out the first sorta-5G network in a handful of neighborhoods starting October 1st, and AT&T will be following closely behind. Verizon has already announced the pricing for its fixed home 5G internet, and it’s actually surprisingly reasonable — just $50 for existing Verizon wireless subscribers, which gets you speeds of at least 300Mbps and no data caps, thresholds, or throttling.
But good prices when a service first rolls out is exactly what you expect. Far more telling is what AT&T is plotting for the future, when 5G is more ubiquitous and it turns from a fun new technology into a key revenue generator. So, it shouldn’t surprise you at all to learn that AT&T is already coming up with pricing schemes to extract the largest possible blood sacrifice from its customers to access 5G.
According to Fierce Wireless, AT&T executives spent some time at the Mobile World Congress Americas trade show last week talking about the potential pricing strategies for 5G. David Christopher, President of the AT&T Mobility and Entertainment Group, said that there are two new pricing strategies AT&T is currently experimenting with for its wireless network: selling service bundled with a device (which tends to be for low-bandwidth applications like a tracker), and add-on charges for a device, like the $10-a-month service fee for the Apple Watch.
What’s more telling is that Christopher also said there would be “different tiers” of service provided, and AT&T reportedly mentioned offering a low-latency service for gaming as one potential option. It’s telling because under the net neutrality rules enforced by the previous FCC, AT&T wouldn’t have much flexibility to offer those kinds of different plans. Paid prioritization or discrimination based on the type of traffic generally ran afould of the FCC’s rules, pushing carriers towards offering a simple per-GB service.
But as we’ve seen over the course of the last year, wireless plans have actually been exploding with complexity. Most carriers now offer a selection of different “Unlimited” plans with different maximum speeds, video streaming options, and priority on the network. If 5G lives up to its promise and starts to replace wired internet, you can expect the same kind of traffic discrimination to extend into our home internet as well — and AT&T is clearly stoked about the prospect.