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5G is off to a slow start

With T-Mobile's launch of 5G in parts of six cities on Friday, all four major carriers now offer some form of the higher-speed service.

Yes, but: The 5G service that exists today is nascent to say the least, and each carrier offers at most a couple of devices that work on the high-speed network. True utility and mainstream adoption are still far away for most of the country.

Why it matters: 5G holds a lot of promise, from offering faster speeds to enabling smart cities and robotic surgery. All of that may come to pass, but it is very, very early.

Details: Here's what each of the major carriers is offering...

  • AT&T announced 5G service for parts of Las Vegas, bringing the total number of cities (well, portions of cities) covered to 20.
  • Sprint launched mobile 5G service on May 30 in parts of the Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City areas, and said it plans to add service in portions of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks.
  • T-Mobile started offering service Friday in parts of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York.
  • Verizon has 5G service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis and plans to be in more than 30 cities by the end of 2019.

Be smart: Think very long and hard before plunking down money on a 5G device, even if you live in one of the cities where it's partially available.

  • Also, be aware that AT&T has muddied the water by rebranding 4G service on existing devices as "5G Evolution" and showing a "5G E" logo.
  • Real 5G requires both available service and a new 5G-capable phone.

What to watch: Wall Street is closely watching for a decision from the Justice Department on the T-Mobile-Sprint merger which, if approved, would roll up significant high-speed spectrum assets under the new combined company.

  • But even if the deal is approved, the 5G network they've promised won't appear overnight, and integrating two wireless companies' infrastructures will take time.

Go deeper: Read CNET's comparison of peak speeds for the four carriers.