AT&T plans to be the first carrier to launch a standards-based mobile 5G service in a dozen cities in the United States before the end of this year.
The emphasis on mobile 5G—as opposed to the fixed wireless access type of 5G that rival Verizon has been focused on—is notable given that a lot of skeptics cast doubt on the ability to offer mobility in millimeter wave spectrum. The announcement did not specify in which spectrum bands the mobile 5G is being deployed or the dozen cities where it expects to launch this year.
Efforts have been underway by vendors like Qualcomm to make sure millimeter wave is viable for mobile networks and smartphones. Last October, for example, Qualcomm Technologies announced it had achieved a 5G data connection on a 5G modem chipset for mobile devices. The company has said its Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem family is expected to support commercial launches of 5G smartphones and networks in the first half of 2019.
Meanwhile, AT&T didn't mention any specific vendors in its announcement—nor did it describe the kinds of mobile 5G it's going to offer this year—but the company did acknowledge that the 3GPP just completed key elements of 5G New Radio (NR) standards last month—and it did so on an accelerated path that AT&T and others had pushed for last year. In March, the industry agreed that the Non Standalone (NSA) portion of the specifications would be done by December 2017, enabling the accelerated timeline to standards-based 5G.
“5G will change the way we live, work and enjoy entertainment,” said Melissa Arnoldi, president, AT&T Technology and Operations, in a press release. “We’re moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year and start unlocking the future of connectivity for consumers and businesses. With faster speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more.”
In addition to plans for offering mobile 5G to consumers this year, AT&T said it expects to conduct trials of 5G technology with businesses of all sizes across industries to help them to transform business operations and create more engaging experiences for their customers.
AT&T will also be tapping into its edge computing expertise as it takes 5G “to the edge.” The operator referenced the future 5G technologies that eventually will allow driverless vehicles to make real-time decisions based on information that goes beyond the individual sensors onboard the vehicle itself. Still a ways off, the vehicles will be able to “see” around corners, through other vehicles, and at longer distances, enabling vehicles to quickly make sense of their environment and help guide safe operations on the road.
AT&T was the subject of some jibes last year when it announced its “5G Evolution” markets that employ LTE Advanced features. The company defended its use of the 5G label, saying it’s laying the foundation for 5G while standards were being finalized and that 5G isn’t something that happens overnight.
AT&T has been busy on other fronts as well, deploying a nationwide low-power wide-area LTE-M network in the U.S. in 2017 and building an LTE-M network in Mexico that’s now ready. LTE-M supports large-scale IoT solutions, including smart city services, smart metering, asset tracking, supply chain management, security and alarm monitoring and personal wearables.
Last year, AT&T launched pre-standards 5G fixed wireless trials in the Texas towns of Austin and Waco, as well as Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana, with residential, small business and education customers. It also launched two Project AirGig trials, offering transport for ultrafast low latency internet over power lines, with one in Georgia and one international.