AT&T puts its 5G foot forward

AT&T has announced its 5G evolution plans for 2017 to meet growing bandwidth demands on both its mobile and fixed networks.

While the promise of 5G is something which will excite customers around the world who are demanding faster speeds, this announcement from AT&T will worry standards bodies who are keen to ensure the industry crosses the finishing line together. It isn’t the end of the world, but pre-standards fragmentation is starting to become a reality in the industry, as the desire for speed grows greater than the benefits of a standardized approach to 5G.

“Our 5G Evolution plans will pave the way to the next-generation of higher speeds for customers,” said John Donovan, Group President, Technology and Operations at AT&T. “We’re not waiting until the final standards are set to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G. We’re executing now.”

“Data on our mobile network has increased about 250,000% since 2007, and the majority of that traffic is video. 5G’s promise of greater speed and overall network performance brings huge opportunities not only for video but in the Internet of Things, 4K video, augmented and virtual reality, smart home and cities, autonomous vehicles and much more.”

With both the implementation of 3G and 4G fragmentation was a major issue, resulting in increased prices for various components, chipsets and devices. While the transition through to 5G is more evolution than chop-change, lessons were supposed to be learnt to avoid fragmentation becoming a problem once again.

To be fair to AT&T though, it’s not alone in causing these issues. NTT is having a go in Japan, SK Telekom and KT are moving ahead with their own plans in Korea and Verizon is doing the same in the US. No-one seems to be able to resist the temptation of 5G, and the risk of spectrum fragmentation is growing.

Like fat children on a compulsory diet being forced to watch a cake cooking in the oven; will they be able to keep their fingers out of the icing until mummy and daddy say its treat time. suspects not, but only time will tell whether the industry has learned to play nice.

In terms of the evolution to 5G, the team claims to have reached speeds up to 14 Gbps in initial lab trials, while also successfully tested a connection with less than 3 milliseconds of latency. In the real world, the continued deployment of 4G LTE-Advanced network remains a priority, with the team expecting to reach peak theoretical speeds of up to 1 Gbps at some cell sites in 2017. Diversification will continue through the deployment of small cells and the use of technologies like carrier aggregation.

The team are also planning a 5G Video Trial with DirecTV Now in Austin during the first half of 2017, where residential customers will be able to stream the video service over a fixed wireless 5G connection. The trial will include multiple sites and devices, with the team aiming to learn how fixed wireless mmWave technology handles heavy video traffic.

AT&T has also recently announced plans to team up with Qualcomm and Ericsson for mobile and fixed wireless trials in the second half of 2017. These trials will be one of the first times the new 5G New Radio specification will play a role, testing both mobile and fixed wireless solutions operating in mmWave spectrum.

The path to 5G has been a long-one and while every has been playing nice so far, we’re beginning to see a little bit of bickering as the finish line approaches. If 5G and all the trimming are completely standardized it will be a miracle, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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