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AT&T is looking to grab a 5G lead over its international rivals, saying it will carry out field trials of 5G technologies in Texas this year.

Iain Morris

February 12, 2016

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

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

About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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