Make no mistake: AT&T (NYSE: T) certainly is thinking about 5G, even if its executives are urging the industry not to get too far ahead of itself before standards are written.
AT&T representatives recently met with FCC officials to discuss 5G as part of the commission's proceeding on the use of bands above 24 GHz for mobile radio services. The FCC has proposed new rules for higher band spectrum, which is expected to play a bigger role in 5G than in any previous generations of mobile technology.
Specifically, the AT&T executives met with staff from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, International Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) to present their vision, key issues and architectural concepts for 5G networks. Representing the OET were Julius Knapp, chief engineer, and Michael Ha, deputy chief. AT&T representatives included Joan Marsh, VP of federal regulatory, and Stacey Black, AVP of federal regulatory, and others.
AT&T's presentation to the FCC discusses the diverging requirements supported by a multi-radio access technology (RAT) approach, including "extremely high speed mobile broadband and low speed IoT," as well as simultaneous connections to multiple technologies, including LTE-A, unlicensed, and flexible new RAT design.
Another trend listed is the addition of new millimeter wave (mmWave) RAT for speed and capacity, estimated by AT&T to emerge around the 2022 timeframe. The concept includes self-backhaul to simplify short-range cell architecture. Network slicing is also expected to deliver "varied services to varied devices," and SDN/NFV architecture will be a necessity.
The presentation includes discussion of key 5G concepts impacting RAN architecture, which includes the aforementioned self-backhaul, as well as transmission point (TP) groups for low latency transport or self-backhaul within a TP group and high latency transport between TP groups.
"5G specs should be designed to be distributed and virtualized," and "avoid strict timing relationships to allow distributed implementation," the presentation states. Functional splits also must be studied to understand what interfaces might be opened in standards bodies such as 3GPP, AT&T said.
The topic of 5G and the perception that competitors are moving faster than AT&T came up during a presentation during Citi's recent 2016 Global Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Las Vegas. Rival Verizon (NYSE: VZ) made a big splash in September when it announced it would begin 5G technology field trials in 2016. After that, AT&T executives made a point to downplay the significance of those efforts.
At the Citi conference, AT&T Senior EVP of Technology and Operations John Donovan indicated the operator doesn't feel an urgency to move faster on 5G unless a better cost curve emerges.
"We are doing everything in 5G that everyone is doing," he said, echoing comments by other AT&T executives. "We sit on the standards boards. We're trialing the technologies. We're trialing different flavors of the technology. We've earmarked cities for deployments early… We just haven't been overly public because what we want to do is we want to keep the optionality of being early, mid- or on the back end, depending on whether we're going to optimize to speed, capacity or cost. And right now, we're laser-focused on that incremental cost per megabyte as the customers start to consume more and more video on wireless."
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