AT&T's 5G trials could deliver speeds around 5 Gbps this year

AT&T (NYSE: T) will start a 5G trial with "friendly" customers by the end of this year, delivering a multi-gigabit, fixed type of service, according to a keynote at the Big Communications Event (BCE) 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Dave Wolter, AT&T assistant VP of radio technology and architecture, did not say exactly what "multi-gigabit" speeds would be in the trials, according to Light Reading. However, his slides said that the Phase 1 5G specification, which the industry is working on defining now, will offer "mobile broadband throughput of 5 Gbps+."

AT&T previously has said that it plans to expand its current lab testing to an outdoor test in Austin this summer, and it plans to use pre-standard equipment in 2017, similar to what Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is doing. AT&T is starting tests first using 15 GHz gear – because that's what's available – and moving to 28 GHz equipment later this year.

"It's a new area for us," Wolter said of millimeter wave radios, according to Light Reading. "We don't understand everything we need to know yet."

AT&T executives also have said there's still a lot of life left in LTE. In LTE Release 13, there's the ability to launch FD-MIMO in LTE, as well as improved latency, higher order modulation and the beginnings of virtualization. Narrowband LTE is designed for low-power devices, with 10-year battery life, and deployment is expected in late 2017/early 2018.

Industry expectations for 5G include multi-gigabit speeds and high capacity, ultra-low latency and high reliability, multi-RAT networks using sub 6 GHz, millimeter wave and unlicensed bands, as well as massive MIMO and densification with self-backhaul and an SDN/NFV-based architecture.

Early this year, AT&T announced it would be doing 5G trials in Austin; that's where it has a test bed already established.  The idea is to learn about how millimeter wave works because while AT&T and others have done a lot of work with millimeter wave technology, it's never deployed it the way they're talking about for 5G, and there's a lot to be learned, including around channel modeling and angle of arrival.

AT&T has spent a lot of time virtualizing its network and concepts like network slicing will require virtualization. Big data analytics also will play a key role in the 5G space, according to AT&T.

At the Brooklyn 5G Summit last month, Tom Keathley, SVP, wireless network architecture and design, said he thinks it's possible and probably likely that the same air interface can be used for both millimeter wave and sub 6 GHz spectrum. However, that's not locked in and until the standards are set, things could go a different way.

For more:
- see this Light Reading article

Related articles:
Sprint confirms 5G demos at Copa soccer games in Santa Clara, Philadelphia in June
AT&T expects to start outdoor 5G tests in Austin this summer
AT&T working with Ericsson, Intel to test 5G in Q2, promises speeds up to 100 times faster than LTE

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