Signs that Lawrence may be poised to get the new super-fast 5G wireless phone network

I hear people are excited about something called “5G service.” I thought it was a Cinco de Mayo special for massive amounts of guacamole. That’s not it, but come to find out, it is something almost as useful. It is the next generation of wireless phone service that is supposed to be really, really fast. Now, there is some reason to believe Lawrence may get the service sooner rather than later.

AT&T announced recently that Lawrence is one of 117 new markets that now has 5G Evolution service. That means that AT&T has upgraded a lot of cellphone towers, underground fiber and other such infrastructure that will allow for data to be moved on smartphones and other wireless devices much faster.

How much faster? AT&T says it has seen the new networks elsewhere produce speeds — 537 Mbps, if you understand that sort of thing — that would allow a full-length HD movie to be downloaded onto a phone in less than a minute.

Don’t get confused, though. 5G service will be even faster. (It is so fast that you could download the entire “Vampire Diaries” series in as little time as it takes to forget the plot of “The Vampire Diaries.”) Think of 5G service as kind of like the wireless version of the superfast Google Fiber service that Lawrence spent a lot of time pining for in recent years.

This 5G Evolution service that has been installed in Lawrence is just a step toward 5G service. The fact that Lawrence is a part of a pretty small group of cities to get the upgrade may be a sign that Lawrence will be high on the list to get the actual 5G service when it is rolled out.

Thus far, AT&T has committed to launching the 5G service in parts of Dallas, Atlanta, and Waco, Texas. All those communities already have the 5G Evolution service.

AT&T chose only two cities in Kansas to get the new 5G Evolution service: Lawrence and Wichita. Only one city in Missouri, St. Joseph, was chosen, although a press release said Kansas City is expected to get the service later this year. Parts of Brown and Trego counties in Kansas also have gotten the service.

It also is worth noting that not every square inch of Lawrence has the service. Like other wireless service options, it is dependent upon being located next to cell towers and other such infrastructure. I tried to get an estimate out of an AT&T official about how much of the city is covered by the service, but I had no luck. My understanding, though, is that it is more than a just a handful of neighborhoods.

You also need to know that only certain brands of phones are capable of taking advantage of the high speeds offered by the service. Currently, those include many of the phones in the Samsung Galaxy lineup, LG V30 and the Moto Z(2) Force Edition.

Just to be clear, AT&T is not the only wireless company pursuing 5G plans. It is just the only one that I’m aware of that has made a specific announcement about Lawrence. But Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all in the process of figuring out their 5G strategies. It should be interesting to watch because Lawrence has been pretty focused on getting faster internet speeds — so much so that some politicians even floated the idea of the city running its own internet service to get the job done. There are some signs, though, that the private sector has decided to start spending money in the Lawrence market to address the issue. Probably the biggest project to keep an eye on is Midco’s plans to launch gigabit service — that’s the Google Fiber type of speed. We reported in January that the company hoped to have the service operating by about June. We’ll look to get an update from Midco soon.

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I don’t have any insight into why Lawrence was chosen by AT&T to be among the approximately 120 U.S. cities chosen for this latest round of new service enhancements. However, for several years now there has been little chance that Lawrence was going to be forgotten among the company’s Kansas plans.

Since 2014, Lawrence resident Mike Scott has been the president of AT&T Kansas. Scott, however, will retire from the company on May 29, according to a release from AT&T. He has been with the company for 33 years and once oversaw the Lawrence system before moving up the corporate ladder.

“I’ve been honored to lead a tremendous AT&T team focused on growing our company’s legacy of investment, job creation, innovation and community engagement across this great state,” Scott said via the release.

A replacement for Scott hasn’t yet been named.