AT&T touts progress on path to standalone 5G

AT&T said it managed to boost upload speeds on its 5G network to 120 Mbit/s via the combination of standalone (SA) and carrier aggregation (CA) technologies.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 18, 2023

3 Min Read
AT&T touts progress on path to standalone 5G

AT&T announced this week it successfully conducted tests of standalone (SA) 5G technology that the operator said could pave the way for dramatically faster speeds on its network.

Specifically, AT&T said it managed to clock 120 Mbit/s upload speeds on its 5G network via the combination of SA and carrier aggregation (CA) technology. By using CA, operators can essentially "glue" together transmissions in different spectrum bands, thus providing overall faster speeds.

In its tests, AT&T said it used Nokia's 5G networking equipment and MediaTek's smartphone chipsets to combine transmissions in several different spectrum bands including 850MHz and C-band.

"Demand for uplink capacity and speed continues to increase, about 30% a year in AT&T's mobility network," according to the operator.

Figure 1: (Source: Robert K. Chin - Storefronts/Alamy Stock Photo) (Source: Robert K. Chin - Storefronts/Alamy Stock Photo)

And that's not the end of the operator's efforts. "In the coming months, AT&T will also enable 5G New Radio Dual Connectivity (NR-DC), aggregating our low and mid-band spectrum with our high-band mmWave spectrum on 5G SA," wrote AT&T's Jason Sikes, AVP of the operator's device architecture, in a post to the company's website. "Our labs have achieved 5G NR-DC downlink throughput speeds of up to 5.3 Gbit/s and uplink throughput speeds of up to 670 Mbit/s. This technology will help provide high-speed mobile broadband for both downlink and uplink in stadiums, airports, and other high-density venues."

SA progress

The post from AT&T is noteworthy considering the operator continues to work to launch SA technology across its network. Like Verizon, AT&T had hoped initially to launch SA 5G in 2020 but it did not meet that target.

Now, though, the operator is working to join a relatively small but growing list of international operators that have taken the step into SA 5G. "We started migrating a small amount of users to the SA core last year and will continue to scale gradually in stages," an AT&T representative told Light Reading this week in response to questions. "Our plan has always been to scale standalone when the ecosystem is ready and when it will be most beneficial to our consumers. Uplink carrier aggregation is no different. We will introduce when the ecosystem is ready, including devices."

AT&T said SA 5G is supported on phones including the Apple iPhone 13 and 14 lines as well as the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S22 lines.

Standalone 5G supports a wide range of advanced wireless technologies including network slicing. It represents a significant technological advancement from non-standalone (NSA) 5G, which requires a 4G LTE network to act as an anchor. Most 5G networks around the world still use the NSA version of 5G.

"The 5G SA ecosystem is rapidly evolving, with new technologies and capabilities being introduced to provide differentiated experiences," Sikes noted. He said services that are "on the horizon" at AT&T include network slicing, precision location, private routing, satellite connections and reduced capability 5G (RedCap) that supports Internet of things (IoT) services.

To be clear, AT&T isn't the only operator moving toward SA 5G. For example, T-Mobile launched the technology nationwide last year, while Verizon began shifting its own traffic onto its SA core in 2022. More recently, Verizon officials have begun hinting at interest in selling SA-powered network slices to public safety customers and others.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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