AT&T plans to introduce mobile 5G service in a dozen markets by late this year (2018), saying it expects to be the first U.S. operator to do so. (Take that T-Mobile!) The company said its service will conform to the 5G new radio (NR) standards developed by 3GPP; the first release, for the non-standalone (NSA) architecture, was completed in late December (2017).
Melissa Arnoldi, president of AT&T technology and operations, said, “We're moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year and start unlocking the future of connectivity for consumers and businesses. With faster speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more.”
In addition to offering mobile 5G services to consumers, the company said it will trial 5G technology for businesses and fixed wireless access (FWA), extending last year’s FWA trials in Austin, Kalamazoo, South Bend and Waco.
AT&T is also exploring broadband propagation via power lines, termed Project AirGig, conducting two field trials, in George and at an undisclosed international location.
AT&T has also been investing in its LTE network, using the branding “5G Evolution.” 5G Evolution is really LTE-Advanced, incorporating 256-QAM, 4 x 4 MIMO and three-way carrier aggregation to increase data rates. 5G Evolution was launched in 23 major metro areas during 2017: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Bridgeport (Connecticut), Buffalo, Chicago, Fresno, Greenville (South Carolina), Hartford (Connecticut), Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Tulsa.
The company also launched license-assisted access (LAA), which taps the 5 GHz Wi-Fi band to obtain additional bandwidth and increase data rates. AT&T said LAA will be introduced in at least two dozen metro areas this year.
During 2017, as part of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, AT&T provided FWA service to more than 440,000 locations in 18 states, largely rural areas. This LTE-based service is required to provide download data rates of at least 10 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps. This year, AT&T plans to reach some 660,000 locations, rising to 1.1 million by the end of 2020, all in those same 18 states.
AT&T is also offering IoT services via its LTE network. The company deployed LTE-M across the U.S. in 2017 and says Mexico's first LTE-M network is “network ready.” LTE-M supports downlink and uplink data rates of 1 Mbps and is envisioned for applications such as smart city services, smart metering, asset tracking, supply chain management, security and alarm monitoring, and personal wearables.
2018 should be a great year for wireless technology and consumers. However, the bottom line may not fare as well — as the operators are driven to upgrade their networks to meet the seemingly unending appetites of users with expectations that data is free.