In context: We still have some time before 5G really becomes a thing. The major carriers only have it deployed in a handful of cities so far. However, that doesn’t make it too early to talk about pricing, and AT&T dropped a bomb for customers thinking they would be getting faster speeds on their same plan.
During an earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was asked if the company was planning to hike rates for the faster download speeds that 5G would provide. His quick answer was "Yes." However, he also entertained the thought of a cable-industry-like pricing structure.
“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. If you can offer a gig speed — because there are some customers that are willing to pay a premium for 500 meg to 1 gig speed and so forth. And so I expect that to be the case. We’re 2 or 3 years away from seeing that play out.”
So Stephenson’s visions is a multi-tiered system where customers have to choose between 5G performance caps. This pricing scheme is counter to T-Mobile’s outlook.
Back in February, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that the company was not planning on hiking rates or coming up with convoluted pricing tiers — at least not at first.
“5G service plans will be unlimited, and they won't be more expensive than T-Mobile's existing 4G service plans, at least for three years,” said the exec.
Ars Technica notes Verizon charges $10 more for 5G compared to 4G, but that is for the full 5G bandwidth. It has not mentioned anything about tiering it out, but that does not take it off the table.
It is still too early to tell where carriers will go with pricing once 5G is fully implemented. Right now even the number of devices capable of the new standard is limited. One thing is clear: 5G is going to change the game. We’ll have to see how Big Telecom settles on pricing and service.