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AT&T turns on low-band 5G network in 10 markets across the country

AT&T's 5G network is finally ready for regular consumers.

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The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G will be AT&T's first 5G phone. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T's 5G low-band network is finally ready for consumers. The wireless giant announced Friday that it has officially turned on 5G in 10 markets across the country. The new network, which works with the $1,300 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G that is also available today, is AT&T's first 5G network that regular people can use. 

Areas for the initial launch include Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco,  Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Alabama; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York and San Jose, California.

The next wave of markets set to get the new network include Boston, Bridgeport, Connecticut; Buffalo, New York; Las Vegas, Louisville, Kentucky and New York City. While no firm timeline has been given, AT&T says it will turn the network on "soon" and is working "toward offering nationwide coverage in the first half of 2020."

AT&T has a millimeter-wave based 5G network, which it calls "5G Plus," live in parts of 23 cities across the country but it has limited access thus far to just developers and businesses. Both networks are different than "5GE," what AT&T has called its 4G LTE network since earlier this year

When it comes to speed the higher frequency 5G Plus network is AT&T's fastest, producing impressive speeds that have topped 1Gbps in our limited time with it. As with Verizon's similar millimeter-wave network, however, the range for 5G Plus is limited and it struggles to penetrate through walls, windows or leaves. 

The new low-band 5G network that is going live today is similar to the low-band 5G network that T-Mobile turned on earlier this month for 200 million people and can work outdoors as well as in buildings. The low-band network will eventually become the network AT&T uses to blanket large portions of the country with 5G. 

Unlike T-Mobile, which said that download speeds would be 20% faster on a nationwide average on its new 5G network, AT&T is not making any speed promises for its network, which runs on the company's 850Mhz spectrum. 

Speeds on the launch 5G networks will be "on par" with what AT&T 4G LTE users get on its 5GE network, Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of AT&T Mobility, told CNET last month

The new Galaxy Note will be the first phone to work with the low-band 5G network and is backward compatible with older networks like AT&T's LTE "5GE" service. It will not, however, be able to use the millimeter-wave "5G Plus" service as devices that work with all of the company's network technologies aren't expected until 2020. 

If you do upgrade to the Note 10 Plus 5G you will also need one of AT&T's latest, pricier "Elite" or "Extra" unlimited plans to take advantage of 5G. Those on older AT&T unlimited offerings will not be able to use the new network without changing their plan.