AT&T Lights Fire Under 5G, Plans 2016 Trials

Iain Morris
2/12/2016
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US telecom giant AT&T has revealed ambitious plans to carry out 5G trials ahead of major global rivals, saying it aims to use 5G technologies at fixed locations in Austin, Texas, before the end of this year.

Those field trials will follow lab tests with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) in the second quarter before outdoor tests and trials over the summer months. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) says the work will guide its contributions to 5G technology standards. (See AT&T Unveils Its 5G Roadmap.)

Actual 5G standards are not expected to appear until 2018 at the earliest, but AT&T says it will conduct trials in a way that allows it "pivot" to those standards once they have been set.

The announcement comes days after Light Reading reported that AT&T had applied to the FCC for a three-year license to carry out 5G tests in Austin. According to regulatory filings, the operator wants permission to use spectrum in the 3.5GHz, 4GHz, 15GHz and 28GHz bands during these tests. (See AT&T Wants to Start 5G Tests in Austin.)

Chief rival Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has previously announced similar pre-5G plans. A service it aims to launch next year is likely to be a fixed wireless access technology that could be used instead of last-mile fiber to support 1Gbit/s connections. (See Verizon CEO: US Commercial 5G Starts in 2017.)

In other parts of the world, operators including South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Sweden's Telia Company and Russian operators Mobile TeleSystems OJSC (MTS) (NYSE: MBT) and MegaFon are all looking to carry out 5G trials before 2020. (See TeliaSonera, Ericsson Join 5G Early Movers, Russia's MTS to Trial 5G in 2018, Verizon CEO: US Commercial 5G Starts in 2017 and DoCoMo & EE Share 5G Visions.)

But with plans to conduct field trials this year, AT&T and Verizon seem to be the most ambitious of them all. (See Verizon & Partners to Field Test 5G in 2016.)

A pre-5G lead could help to fuel subscriber interest in AT&T's offerings in the highly competitive US mobile market. AT&T will also be keen to exert as much influence as possible over the development of a 5G ecosystem, as standardization activities gather pace.

Providing more details of its expectations surrounding the emerging mobile technology, the operator said that 5G should be capable of supporting connection speeds that are between 10 and 100 times faster than average 4G connections. It is also aiming for latency of between one and five milliseconds.

AT&T claims the investments it has already been making in SDN and NFV technologies give it a head start in the 5G field. (See AT&T Touts Its First Virtualized Functions .)

"5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services," said John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer, in a company statement. "Our approach is simple -- deliver a unified experience built with 5G, software-defined networking (SDN), big data, security and open source software."


Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.


The importance that AT&T attaches to SDN and NFV in the context of 5G could help to bring different parts of the networks business closer together.

In December, Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown warned of a 5G "disconnect" between the developers of radio access technologies and other parts of the networking community. (See 5G Needs More Joined-Up Thinking Heavy Reading.)

"There is no real link between what is being done or designed in terms of RAN [radio access network] infrastructure and control and how the rest of the network is designing systems and processes," Brown told an audience at Light Reading's 2020 Vision summit in Dublin.

AT&T hopes to have "virtualized" 75% of its network by 2020 and says it will reach the milestone of 30% in 2016, up from 5.7% last year. Some 14 million customers are now on this virtual infrastructure, it claims.

Noting further details of the trends it is observing, AT&T said that data traffic on its wireless network grew by more than 150,000% between 2007 and 2015 and that video services now accounted for more than 60% of the total.

In future, services based on 4K video, virtual reality and IoT applications will account for most of the growth in traffic, it says.

Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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TV Monitor
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TV Monitor,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/16/2016 | 4:44:00 PM
Re: Race to be first
Dan Jones

"Recall that the Apple A9 processor is already built by Samsung and TSMC to Apple's design."

Apple doesn't build its own LTE modem, it buys them as discrete chips from Qualcomm and Intel. Apple doesn't have the ability to design its own modem chip.

Apple A series is just a processor package that requires external modem, unlike Snapdragon 820 and Exynos 8890 that integrate an LTE modem.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/16/2016 | 2:46:07 PM
Re: Race to be first
Recall that the Apple A9 processor is already built by Samsung and TSMC to Apple's design. I suspect they'd probably want 2 suppliers for baseband chips just to be safe, but its not impossible that they could use different suppliers if they're happy with them.
TV Monitor
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TV Monitor,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2016 | 9:57:16 AM
Re: Race to be first
lanbrown

"Apple is not producing their own baseband chipset.  Intel and Qualcomm will be whom they need to convince since they are primarily the major players."

Well, Apple will have to start buying from Samsung and Mediatek/Spreadtrum for mmWave 5G and Chinese TD-LTE+ modems. Qualcomm could also do modems for both standards. After all, it is the antenna that's the secret sauce of the Samsung 28 Ghz 5G format, not the signal processor. TD-LTE+ doesn't require anything special in terms of antenna.

"Chinese base stations are not banned; the US government made it quite clear"

Softbank specifically agreed to remove all Chinese equipment from Sprint's network as the condition of takeover, and in fact Dan Jones wrote a big article about the non-compliance of this agreement here. http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/4g-lte/surprise!-sprint-still-has-huawei-in-its-network/d/d-id/720373

Thus Huawei and ZTE will need to license the TD-LTE+ base station design to a non-Chinese vendor and provide a slice of Chinese domestic TD-LTE+ base station market in order to service Sprint.
lanbrown
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lanbrown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2016 | 1:53:17 AM
Re: Race to be first
It is not the handset makers that they need to worry about but the chipset manufacturers.  Apple is not producing their own baseband chipset.  Intel and Qualcomm will be whom they need to convince since they are primarily the major players.  Samsung is getting there since they have finally started to use their own in their handsets.

 

Chinese base stations are not banned; the US government made it quite clear though that the use of Chinese equipment will preclude that telco from government contracts.  Will Sprint/Softbak go the cheap route but sacrifice the ability to service the government or convince other equipment manufacturers to produce gear for them?  Most telcos use two vendors to get better pricing.  Convincing two might be hard for Sprint and pricing may not be on their (Sprint) side.

 

The only place where the Chinese are banned like Huawei are from US Government contracts.
TV Monitor
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TV Monitor,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2016 | 1:24:06 AM
Re: Race to be first
lanbrown

"I still don't think Sprint has the capital to expend on it."

Softbank had it worse in its early days. After all, it was the cheap pricing of Chinese equipment that allowed Softbank to expand its LTE network fast.

"Most carriers of the world went with FDD but Sprint went TDD for the 2.5GHz band."

Oh, Softbank is also primarily TDD in Japan and it doesn't have a problem with user terminals, because Apple and Samsung make TDD iPhone and Galaxy for Chinese market and for Softbank.

Securing the TD-LTE+ user terminals won't be a problem, but sourcing base stations will be, since Chinese telco equipment are banned in the US and Softbank must find a non-Chinese vendor of TD-LTE+ equipment for Sprint.
lanbrown
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lanbrown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/14/2016 | 5:52:01 PM
Re: Race to be first
I still don't think Sprint has the capital to expend on it.  They could just follow what Softbank is doing.  They could also be left behind when it comes to government contracts though or vendor selection.  With Sprint almost being the sole 2.5GHz holder, many vendors may not see the benefit of supporting it.

 

Take LTE; there is TDD and FDD.  Most carriers of the world went with FDD but Sprint went TDD for the 2.5GHz band.
TV Monitor
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TV Monitor,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/14/2016 | 11:11:01 AM
Re: Race to be first
lanbrown

"Could Sprint afford pre-standards though?"

Softbank is already fully committed behind the Chinese 5G standard. In the US, this means 2.5 Ghz band. Softbank won't touch mmwave 5G stuff.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/13/2016 | 2:58:50 PM
Re: AT&T's FCC filing
If they can't afford tests then they're in worse trouble than we thought. They've said they will wait for the standards. Seems fair enough!
lanbrown
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lanbrown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/13/2016 | 2:04:10 AM
Re: Race to be first
Could Sprint afford pre-standards though?  AT&T and Verizon are willing to spend the money.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
2/12/2016 | 5:16:45 PM
Re: Verizon
Verizon hasn't revealed exactly what it will test as "5G" yet.
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