AT&T recently announced that it became the first mobile operator to offer mobile 5G service in the United States. The network is built to provide a mobile 5G experience over mmWave spectrum, offering users a faster mobile experience than standard LTE. While the initial launch targets 12 select markets, only a limited number of customers (who purchase an AT&T 5G Hotspot) will initially experience these network upgrades, as 5G handset sales will not begin until the first half of next year. Regardless, as the 5G ecosystem evolves, customers will gradually see enhancements in coverage, speeds and devices throughout the course of ‘19. AT&T has been preparing for this launch for quite some time by implementing the foundational network, spectrum, and software assets to deliver superior 5G experiences. This network transformation is being driven by AT&T’s deployments of 5G Evolution (LTE-Advanced) and LTE-LAA, along with its deep expertise in supporting mmWave deployments.
5G Evolution and LTE-LAA
Earlier this year, AT&T shared details of how it is deploying 5G Evolution (LTE-Advanced) and LTE-LAA features such as 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO and multiple carrier aggregation across its network to improve performance of its mobile broadband service and set the foundation for 5G. AT&T continues to aggressively expand 5G Evolution and LTE-LAA coverage, thus further preparing for nationwide launch of standards-based 5G services. According to AT&T, 5G Evolution technologies enables a peak theoretical wireless speed of 400Mbps for capable devices, or an average around 40Mbps based on real-world experiences. 5G Evolution is in 385 markets today and will be live in 400 markets in the coming days.
AT&T has also received clearance to deploy 700 MHz spectrum it won as part of a government contract to build a national public safety network, known as FirstNet. As AT&T implements FirstNet, it is simultaneously deploying 5G Evolution technologies such as massive MIMO and 256 QAM which are software-upgradeable to 5G. This strategy has placed AT&T in an advantageous position to implement 5G when standards-based equipment for 5G is made available.
Develop mmWave Expertise through Extensive Trials
The mmWave spectrum is expected to be a critical for mobile operators’ 5G strategies. By supporting extremely high data rates, mmWave can help deliver vastly improved data services. AT&T has supported several pre-standards 5G fixed wireless trials with residential, small business, retail and education trial participants using mmWave spectrum. Starting with one of the first enterprise trials in the industry, AT&T expanded fixed 5G trials to multiple cities and has gained a comprehensive understanding of the key parameters and performance metrics for 5G. These trial learnings are guiding AT&T’s commercial 5G launches and will help ensure that AT&T can build a reliable 5G network for both consumers and enterprises.
2019: The Year of 5G
2019 is going to be the year for 5G in the US market. A high-speed, low-latency, software-defined network that can efficiently support the data requirements of consumers and enterprises is the essence of AT&T’s strategy. 5G will enable AT&T to support the exponential growth of data on its network. The recent launch of standards-based mobile 5G services is a promising start to AT&T’s 5G roadmap. However, the real test will be tightly tied to the initial service experience along with AT&T’s 5G device strategy. With the first commercial 5G mobile devices expected to be available in early 2019, these are exciting times for the US 5G industry.