A couple of recent reports have suggested that the first 5G iPhones may be launched in 2020, but one major carrier has warned that we shouldn’t expect too much too soon …

It was reported earlier this month that Intel would be supplying 5G radio chips for the iPhone in 2020, with a subsequent report suggesting that Apple would be in a position to begin testing them in 2019. A recent Deloitte study suggested that 5G support will be an important factor for 60% of Americans when it comes to testing their next smartphone.

But while carriers are already beginning their rollout of the faster mobile data standard, AT&T has cautioned that adoption will be relatively slow. Reuters reports that the company’s CFO gave the warning at a conference in Barcelona.

AT&T is upbeat on long-term revenue prospects for 5G services but expects it to take years before 5G-enabled devices predominate, CFO John Stephens said on Wednesday.

AT&T, the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, has developed some use cases for the next-generation mobile technology, such as connected factories, but does not expect 5G-enabled handsets to hit the market until late 2019 or 2020.

“It’s an exciting spot. We’re ready. But I’m not here to make any predictions on revenue opportunities in ‘19,” Stephens told the Morgan Stanley TMT Conference in Barcelona.

Stephens said only around 5 percent of users were getting a new smartphone each quarter, indicating it will take time for the sector to grow.

All of the major US carriers have promised early support for 5G. Verizon claimed to have begun its rollout last month, though the company isn’t offering true 5G, and the service is only available for in-home use for selected customers in four cities. AT&T has promised its own launch any day now, with a dozen cities in line to get the service this year. Sprint’s initial rollout will be to six cities, while T-Mobile accuses competitor networks of misleading claims as it plans its own nationwide launch.

The cautions are appropriate. 5G is a much shorter-range tech than LTE, closer to Wi-Fi than conventional mobile data services, and thus needs many more base stations. Initial rollout is likely to be extremely patchy, with city centers expected to lead the way. Plans include base stations in lamp-posts and stores.

iPhone owners won’t necessarily have to wait for 5G iPhones to take advantage of the technology, however: mobile hotspot devices are expected to make it to market ahead of 5G smartphones.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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