We’re still several years away from 5G blanketing the US in coverage and delivering on all the promises of breakneck speeds and low latency we’ve been hearing about. But when that eventually happens, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson foresees a change to the way that mobile providers price their plans today. During today’s AT&T earnings call, Randall Stephenson said 5G might be more closely modeled after broadband internet at home, with different prices for different speed tiers. With LTE data plans, you usually pay one price for the best performance that the network can offer.
“I will be very surprised if, as we move into wireless, the pricing regime in wireless doesn’t look something like the pricing regime you see in fixed line,” Stephenson said. “If you can offer a gig speed, there are some customers that are willing to pay a premium for 500 meg to a gig speed, and so forth. So I expect that to be the case. We’re two to three years away from seeing that play out.”
AT&T’s actual 5G network — not the carrier’s misleading 5G E nonsense — is currently live in 19 markets in the US, but the only device that can take advantage of 5G is a mobile hotspot. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G will eventually make its way to AT&T after a period of exclusivity on Verizon Wireless. And a second Samsung-branded device, able to utilize “both 5G mmWave and sub-6GHz” network technology, will be released in the second half of this year.
Thus far, AT&T hasn’t announced pricing for 5G mobile plans. But as Stephenson suggested, I think you can expect the status quo unlimited plans during 5G’s infancy. Verizon charges an extra $10 for 5G access, which is currently only available on Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod device, but has so far refrained from speed tiers. But once coverage starts spreading significantly, these companies might dramatically shift how we’ve come to think about mobile plans.