AT&T, Verizon both promise to be ‘first’ with 5G

Verizon's Nicola Palmer discusses the company's 5G plans during a FierceWireless event. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)

BARCELONA, Spain—“We’re going to be first to market” in 5G, proclaimed Nicola Palmer, Verizon’s chief network engineer and head of the carrier’s wireless networks, during a FierceWireless event held in conjunction with the Mobile World Congress trade show.

“We have every intention of being first,” declared Gordon Mansfield, AT&T’s VP of RAN and device design, at the same event.

Of course, the operators can’t both be first to launch 5G. But despite the fact that one operator will launch services before the other, they may both be able to claim the ultimate title of “first to 5G” based on their respective network definitions and strategies.

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Specifically, AT&T’s Mansfield promised his company would be the first to launch a “mobile” flavor of 5G with a network based on the 3GPP’s recently ratified Release 15 standard that contains the nonstandalone version of the 5G NR specification. Indeed, AT&T last month promised to launch a standards-based mobile 5G service in a dozen cities in the United States before the end of this year. Company executives have said the operator will offer a mobile “puck” device in time for the launch.

Verizon, on the other hand, has promised to launch a fixed 5G service in three to five cities this year, and Palmer said the carrier will launch a mobile 5G service immediately thereafter. However, Verizon’s CEO recently admitted that the company would eventually have to replace its proprietary V5GTF 5G equipment with 5G equipment that adheres to the 3GPP’s recently completed 5G standard after it launches its initial fixed wireless markets.

Industry observers generally agree that Verizon’s V5GTF standard is virtually identical to the 3GPP’s Release 15 standard. And creating its own V5GTF standard allowed Verizon to test the service in 11 different markets across a total of 200 different nodes. The company has said that the results of its tests show that it will be able to provide 1 Gbps services at up to 2,000 feet.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that AT&T has positioned itself to be the “first” to offer 5G services on the 3GPP’s standard, while Verizon may well be the “first” with a service mimicking the performance of 5G.

Further muddying the waters is AT&T’s launch of “5G Evolution internet speeds” in 20 major metro areas last year. The carrier argued that effort better positioned it to offer 5G, though it’s fair to say that the branding could confuse customers looking for the 5G label.

“5G has become as much a marketing game as it has a technology evolution game,” noted industry analyst Mark Lowenstein last year.