AT&T plans to offer mobile 5G services in a dozen cities this year, and it just announced three of them: Atlanta, Dallas and Waco, Texas.
Atlanta and Dallas are major cities for AT&T—it has a big corporate presence in both—but what’s the connection with Waco? While it’s a smaller city, it also happens to be where AT&T kicked off its largest 5G fixed wireless trial in December with the home and lifestyle brand Magnolia.
“We’re doing a lot of our pilot activity in Waco,” and converting some of that over to the commercial 5G infrastructure is pretty straightforward, according to Gordon Mansfield, vice president of RAN & Device Design at AT&T.
These three markets will be among the first to get AT&T’s 5G service, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the first; they just happen to be the first that it’s announcing.
AT&T's 5G launch will be 3GPP standards-based, mobile 5G as opposed to the pre-standard fixed wireless that rival Verizon has been working on. AT&T's first 5G deployment will use the 39 GHz spectrum that it recently closed on, “but that’s not where we stop,” Mansfield told FierceWirelessTech.
AT&T’s spectrum holdings are pretty broad and it will fairly quickly evolve to other bands; the timing of which it introduces 5G in other bands is being kept close to the vest at the moment, but the expectation throughout the industry is that 5G will tap into low, mid- and high-band spectrum.
AT&T’s initial devices for the mobile 5G service will be in the form factor of a puck, and Mansfield said the operator is not revealing the supplier or suppliers for that. More devices like smartphones and tablets will follow in 2019 and beyond.
AT&T also announced that it’s opening a new 5G lab in Austin, Texas, which is equipped with an outdoor 5G test bed for testing a variety of 5G applications and real-world use cases. One of the first in-house projects built at the lab is the Advanced 5G NR Testbed System (ANTS), which it bills as a first-of-its-kind 5G testbed system that is proprietary to AT&T.
The system allows engineers to simulate real-world customer experiences using gear from multiple vendors before they’re rolled out to customers. An event like the Super Bowl, for example, prompts interesting traffic profiles when people are all uploading video, but it's hard to replicate. With ANTS, AT&T can take the data from an event like that and simulate it in the lab. “It’s a really cool system that gives us new capabilities to really stress the system in real world environments to see how it behaves,” Mansfield said.
AT&T also announced it is very much embracing the edge when it comes to 5G. It recently launched its first test zone for edge applications at its AT&T Foundry innovation center in Palo Alto, California, and it donated code for a new open source project called Akraino. AT&T says these efforts are designed to accelerate progress toward development of next-generation, network-based edge services, fueling a new ecosystem of applications for 5G and IoT.