AT&T brings '5G Evolution' (not real 5G) to 117 more markets

The move, however, does set the foundation for broader 5G deployment later this year and into 2019.

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AT&T is pushing forward on its build towards 5G. 

Roberto Machado Noa / Getty

AT&T is getting more than 100 cities ready for 5G. Just don't be misled by how it's doing it. 

The Dallas telecommunications giant said on Thursday that it's rolling out its "5G Evolution" technology to parts of 117 markets, bringing its total to 141. New cities include larger cities like Miami and Dallas and smaller cities like Reno, Nevada, and Knoxville, Tennessee. The company plans to cover 500 cities by the end of the year. 

5G Evolution is a confusing bit of marketing fluff since it isn't actually 5G. But as the "Evolution" part of the term suggests, it will serve as a foundation for the next-generation cellular technology. 

Beyond dramatically higher speeds and a more responsive network, 5G is seen as a hallmark technology able to power other trends like self-driving cars, the internet of things and streaming virtual reality feeds. The interest in 5G have the US carriers falling over themselves to talk about their upgrade plans. 

AT&T has said it will launch mobile 5G service in a dozen cities this year, with more markets to come next year. Verizon plans to launch 5G as a broadband replacement service this year and committed to a mobile roll out as well. T-Mobile and Sprint are rolling out 5G technology this year, but they don't plan to launch until next year. 

Those 12 cities will have already received the benefit of 5G Evolution technology, said Melissa Arnoldi, president of AT&T's technology and operations unit. Even without 5G, customers with compatible smartphones could see dramatically increased speeds. 

Watch this: 5G is coming sooner than you might think (The 3:59, Ep. 362)

The company said the theoretical peak speed for 5G Evolution is 400 megabits per second. And while that is only theoretical, even a more real-world speed of 100 megabits per second would smoke most wireless services available today. 

"The upgraded markets will provide double the speed and its the stepping stone to full 5G promised for later this year," said Roger Entner, a consultant at Recon Analytics. 

That is, if you've got a compatible phone. Only select Samsung smartphones, including flagships like the Galaxy S8 and S9 and the Note 8, as well as the LG V30 and Moto Z2 Force Edition, can tap into these higher speeds. 

Missing from that list are any iPhones, which don't have the necessary components to tap into this technology yet. 

AT&T will also bring LTE-LAA -- a wonky term that means it's tapping into the same kind of unlicensed airwaves that Wi-FI routers use -- to three cities. The company said that technology will help it drive its network to 1 gigabit-per-second speeds. It will be available in Boston; Sacramento, California; and McAllen, Texas. 

Arnoldi defended the term 5G Evolution, and said the technology being rolled out will significantly benefit consumers. 

"What we're deploying is not 4G," Arnoldi said. "It's an advancement that's the foundation for 5G."

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