Ericsson snags 5-year C-band, 5G deal with AT&T

5G blue lines
AT&T will use technologies like advanced antenna systems and carrier aggregation from Ericsson as it extends 5G coverage with mid-band. (Getty Images)

Ericsson is officially a supplier for AT&T’s upcoming C-band rollout and 5G network expansion.

The two companies have already partnered on 5G and in recent months conducted multiple trials in the mid-band frequencies. Verizon previously named Ericsson as a C-band vendor as part of a massive $8.3 billion 5G deal.

Now the Swedish vendor has a new 5-year network deal with AT&T that includes 5G radio access network (RAN) technologies such as advanced antenna systems, advanced RAN coordination and carrier aggregation, as well as Cloud RAN down the line.

RELATED: AT&T digs into C-band with multiple trials

AT&T is preparing to deploy the first tranche of C-band spectrum, of which it acquired 40-megahertz, that’s expected to be ready for use in December. Mid-band is often called the sweet spot for providing both a mix of coverage and capacity for 5G services. Initially, AT&T’s targeting existing sites to deploy the higher-capacity spectrum.

Under the deal, Ericsson is supporting AT&T’s plan to cover 70-75 million people with 5G using C-band (in the 3.7 GHz range) by the end of 2022 and expansion to 200 million people by the end of 2023. Financial terms were not disclosed. AT&T has said expects to invest between $6 billion and $8 billion for C-band rollouts over the next few years.

Ericsson called out its Fronthaul Gateway as enabling a centralized RAN architecture, allowing for more efficient transport by converting the fronthaul interface to packet eCPRI (enhanced Common Public Radio Interface).

RELATED: Ericsson launches new Open Lab for 5G vRAN

Ericsson’s advanced antenna system (AAS) helps provide extended coverage and performance gains, with an antenna array closely integrated with hardware and software. It uses multi-antenna techniques like beamforming and MIMO.

The 5G carrier aggregation and Advanced RAN coordination product targets more than C-band, with the aim of optimizing coverage, capacity and latency of both mid-band and high-band deployments.

“As we continue to expand our nationwide 5G network, Ericsson’s technology offerings and 5G expertise will assist with our network evolution,” said Scott Mair, president of AT&T Network Engineering and Operations, in a statement. “This latest agreement provides the pathway for us to deploy Ericsson’s next-generation centralized RAN architecture, enabled by Fronthaul Gateway, with the ability to support future network enhancements, like the evolution to Cloud RAN.”

RELATED: Ericsson beefs up Massive MIMO lineup with smaller radio

AT&T also plans to use Ericsson’s Cloud Link software, according to an Ericsson spokesperson. Cloud Link was introduced in June, and it supports use of carrier aggregation and other technologies across both disaggregated and legacy infrastructure.

When it comes to new network architectures, Dell’Oro Group VP Stefan Pongratz said that in general, operators are exploring three high-level tracks right now. That includes C-RAN (centralized RAN), vRAN (virtualized RAN) and open RAN (O-RAN) “to address supply and demand related drivers that continue to characterize this market.”

“While the overlap is more limited among these architectures now in the initial phase, we do expect this overlap ratio to evolve over time,” Pongratz told Fierce. “And clearly some operators are more aggressive than others when it comes to implementing various architectures.”

Ericsson first introed Cloud RAN in 2020, disaggregating hardware and software as the vendor started to take steps that aligned it closer to rivals (like Nokia and Samsung) which were already moving toward O-RAN-compliant gear.

RELATED: Ericsson CEO pegs O-RAN as key for 6G

This summer it marked a key milestone in adding support for mid-band spectrum and Massive MIMO for 5G cloud RAN. Mid-band spectrum has wider channels available than low-band and massive MIMO is seen as an important technology for C-band, with a greater number of antennas (usually 64T64R or 32T32R) that generate a lot of data.

Per Narvinger, Ericsson’s head of Product Area Networks had told Fierce that a major milestone was showing cloud RAN software could handle all that data from mid-band and Massive MIMO in a general purpose server.

AT&T has signaled plans to introduce O-RAN-based elements into its 5G network, with hardware features already being deployed and software component trials underway. It also conducted C-band tests with Nokia, which has committed to deliver O-RAN-compliant products. Aside from Ericsson, Verizon is using Samsung for C-band and deploying virtualized RAN (vRAN) architecture with the South Korean vendor’s platforms.

RELATED: AT&T can fine tune network with open RAN – Elbaz

In January, Ericsson signed a 5-year 5G network deal with T-Mobile, an operator that has been arguably less enthusiastic about open RAN implementation.  

Beyond consumers, Ericsson’s C-band announcement said it will help AT&T bring 5G to businesses, first responders and industries, such as 5G in sports venues, entertainment, travel and transportation.