AT&T joins Sprint, T-Mobile in race to 1 Gbps this year

Image: Jessica Cross/Flickr

AT&T said it expects to reach peak theoretical speeds of up to 1 Gbps “at some cell sites” this year, joining T-Mobile and Sprint in a race to meet that threshold via LTE.

The nation’s second-largest carrier published a blog post updating its progress in the march toward 5G and touting lab trials that have produced speeds as high as 14 Gbps over wireless. AT&T also said it has tested a connection with less than three milliseconds of latency, beating the five-millisecond latency 5G is expected to produce.

“In fact, we expect to begin reaching peak theoretical speeds of up to 1 Gbps at some cell sites in 2017,” AT&T boasted. “We will continue to densify our wireless network this year through the deployment of small cells and the use of technologies like carrier aggregation, which increases peak data speeds. We’re currently deploying three-way carrier aggregation in select areas, and plan to introduce four-way carrier aggregation as well as LTE-License Assisted Access (LAA) this year.”

Standards are still being developed for 5G, and full-scale commercial deployments of next-generation wireless networks aren’t expected to occur for at least another two years. So in the meantime, major U.S. operators are moving aggressively to maximize speed and capacity on their existing LTE networks.

Sprint CTO John Saw said last week that the carrier expects to approach “1 Gbps class speed boundaries, on all our licensed spectrum” thanks in part to 256 QAM, massive MIMO and three-channel carrier aggregation. Sprint is also working to deploy its 2.5 GHz spectrum, which offers increased capacity and faster speeds compared to lower bands.

Saw’s comments came just days after T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that his company recently conducted tests showing 979 Mbps speeds on its LTE network using 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM on an unreleased handset. “This is the fastest speed possible on a mobile device today and T-Mobile will absolutely be first to Gigabit speeds!” Ray wrote on T-Mobile’s website.

This isn't the first time AT&T has discussed delivering 1 Gbps speeds over LTE. VP Gordon Mansfield delivered a speech two months ago outlining how aggregating licensed and unlicensed spectrum can help support such transmissions over 4G, and the carrier said in October that it expected to see 1 Gbps over LTE "in the near future."