AT&T launches 5G Innovation Studio with Ericsson, Nokia

AT&T hopes to kickstart 5G innovation with the launch of a lab in Plano, Texas, where the carrier will explore and test 5G applications to bring to market more quickly.

Helping AT&T in the endeavor are leading equipment vendors and AT&T 5G suppliers Ericsson and Nokia, which signed on as studio sponsors.

The studio is outfitted with AT&T 5G connectivity, using its millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz spectrum. It also boasts standalone 5G core network and edge capabilities, along with network KPIs to enable creation, testing and validation of new 5G experiences.  

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But that can’t be done in a vacuum, said AT&T VP of 5G Product and Innovation Jay Cary in a video unveiling the lab.

“To really bring to life the unforeseen possibilities of 5G, we’ve partnered with Ericsson and Nokia who are helping us build out the technology and really the environment we need to be able to deliver those end-to-end consumer experiences that are really going to wow you and me when we see them on our phones,” Cary said.

For example, the video showcased a live interactive music performance with Ericsson featuring Axel Mansoor, musician and Clubhouse darling, that leveraged augmented reality (AR).

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The aim is to help bring products to market faster, providing a space where customers can explore and try out tech using advanced network capabilities. Along with current and potential customers, and Ericsson and Nokia, industry players like Microsoft will be involved, as well as smaller companies according to Raj Savoor, VP of Network Analytics and Automation at AT&T. 

"Startups are a big part of the innovation ecosystem, and in fact, one of the first use cases was in collaboration with the drone infrastructure startup, EVA," Savoor told Fierce via email. 

Edge compute, both on-prem and network edge, are part of the picture at the studio. And Savoor said Microsoft played a key role in the success of an initial studio project, involving autonomous drone control with EVA. 

"We deployed a test environment representative of our Microsoft Azure Edge Zone with AT&T, which provided a low-latency path between the drone and the compute environment," Savoor said. "This allowed much more responsive control over the drone’s flight path and is just one example of what’s possible when you combine 5G with edge computing"

Another focus of study for the studio is sports and entertainment experiences. That includes holographic communications, which AT&T already dabbled in with HoloVision and the NBA last year using 5G.  

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And although it’s focused on 5G, the carrier said it won’t ignore other technologies like Wi-Fi 6 and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), with both set to factor into the initiative.

Plano is also the site of an AT&T Foundry innovation center that opened in 2018. It focused on co-creation with enterprise customers to develop solutions in vertical industries like manufacturing, retail, finance, healthcare and the public sector. It wasn’t clear if the 5G Innovation Studio is part of the same facility, or a new and independent lab.* The AT&T Foundry was retired last year, Savoor said, and "proved to be a vital platform to co-create new products and services with our enterprise customers."

"We’ve been on a multi-year evolution in how we innovate, where it takes place and, ultimately, ensuring it aligns to strategic growth areas and meets our customers’ current and future needs," he added, saying what AT&T learned with the Foundry work is now enabling the carrier to take this next step. "The AT&T 5G Innovation Studio brings together the expertise of every business unit to deliver the best possible 5G products and services to our customers."

AT&T isn’t the only one setting up dedicated lab or studio space. Verizon has a handful of 5G labs or "incubators" across the country each focused on new 5G-powered use cases for different segments. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has its 5G-focused startup Accelerator program and co-founded the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

*Article updated with comments from AT&T's Raj Savoor and clarification on AT&T Foundry.