Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

AT&T’s 5G network speeds feel a lot like 4G LTE right now

Published Jan 1st, 2019 9:24AM EST

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

The first mobile 5G networks are already here, but there’s no reason whatsoever to get excited right now. Carriers are making a big deal about the new telecom standard, but we’re probably still a few years away from experiencing decent 5G coverage, and there’s no telling when consistent data speeds worth of the 5G moniker will actually arrive. Because right now, 5G will not feel that much faster than 4G, as we’ve seen in speed tests from actual users.

A few days ago, AT&T made a big deal about launching the first 5G mobile hotspot in the US — no, the first 5G device you can try out isn’t a smartphone — and some users have already put that Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspot to the test. The results were posted on Reddit, and they’re not at very exciting.

One Speedtest result on 5G shows speeds of 194.88Mbps (download) and 17.08Mbps (upload). But as impressive as they may sound, these speeds are only marginally better than what 4G LTE offers on the same device: 187.44Mbps down and 8.14Mbps up.

The 5G test was performed in Indianapolis, one of AT&T’s markets where 5G is turned on right now. Here’s how Reddit user mwb6d described the experience:

Results were wildly inconsistent depending on the server, and most Indianapolis servers performed poorly. I was expecting much lower pings than LTE, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Tested right across the street from a rooftop mounted site that is only three stories high. RSRP -58, RSRQ -8. USB tethered to a Windows 10 laptop.

As a reminder, you won’t get to play with 5G unless you buy a 5G-ready device. AT&T is ready to mislead customers by slapping a “5G E” indicator on existing 4G Android devices. But that’s just marketing, since you’re still getting a variation of 4G. You will need new devices equipped with new radios and antennas capable of connecting to 5G networks in order to get real 5G coverage on AT&T. And as PCMag explains, early 5G networks will also need a 4G connection to operate.

As for the maximum theoretical speed for the Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspot, the report notes that it’s supposed to be 625Mbps. As real-life tests show, however, it looks like it’ll be a while until you experience anything close to that.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.