The term “5G” stands for the fifth generation of mobile technology. This technology will push the performance envelopes of mobile networks. It will be of flexible design to accommodate a diverse user environment, and it will utilize a new, high-frequency radio interface. The development of 5G will be an industry collaborative effort using open source software.
AT&T’s 5G Roadmap
On February 20, 2016, AT&T unveiled its 5G roadmap including its planned trials in 2016. The 5G networks will utilize technologies such as millimeter waves, network function virtualization (NFV), and software defined networking (SDN). AT&T has filed dozens of patents for these technologies.
- Millimeter Waves – Millimeter waves (mmWaves) can transmit large amounts of data. The wavelength of mmWaves is longer than infrared waves or x-rays and shorter than radio waves or microwaves. Their band frequencies are in the extremely high frequency range of 30 GHz to 300 GHz.
- Software Defined Networking – SDN is a software-controlled network architecture as opposed to a network using only equipment.
- Network Function Virtualization – NFV means that virtual devices replace physical devices. Mobile phone apps that play music, track fitness, or navigate are good examples of this concept.
AT&T conducted laboratory collaborations with Ericsson and Intel during the first two quarters of 2016. During the summer, they ran outdoor tests and trials, and planned field trials of 5G technologies in Austin, Texas to begin by the end of 2016. The expectations for these tests were to achieve 10 to 100 times faster speeds than 4G LTE (gigabits/sec versus megabits/sec). Another expectation is to lower latency time (the time to begin streaming) with 5G to between 1 to 5 milliseconds.
In October 2016, AT&T gave its first public demo of 5G technology at the Texas Wireless Summit. Summit attendees witnessed the following.
Multi-gigabit per second (gbps) bandwidth speeds reaching 14 gbps
How 5G works with 4K HD video
How antenna technologies for wireless communications like Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) and dynamic beam tracking and acquisition work.
AT&T also announced that it is working with Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, and Samsung Networks
AT&T’s SDN and NFV Leadership
AT&T had virtualized 5.7% of its network (14 million customers) in 2015 and planned to reach 30% by the end of 2016. SDN and NFV have lowered the cost to deliver a megabyte of data. AT&T is also building applications using open source software and contributing code to the open source community.
AT&T’s First 5G Business Customer Trial
On December 5, 2016, AT&T announced the first 5G field trials in one of Intel’s Austin, Texas offices. Trials, using bandwidths greater than 1 gbps, facilitated testing of internet access, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), unified communications applications, and 4K video streams. The trials studied 5G VoIP over the 15 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands. AT&T believes, “The future is mobile,” and expects to achieve speeds rivaling cable providers.
On April 25, 2017, AT&T announced the launch of 5G Evolution to 20 metropolitan areas during 2017. The 5G Evolution technology has internet speeds two times faster than 4G LTE networks. The faster speeds were available only on Samsung S8 or S8 Plus phones. However, additional devices will benefit from 5G Evolution in the future.
Austin and Indianapolis were the initial sites for the 5G Evolution rollout. Plans for additional sites included Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco, and others not specified. The faster speed of 5G Evolution reduces gaming lag and buffering on mobile devices. AT&T is also working on License Assisted Access (LAA), which is an LTE feature that gives a performance boost for mobile device users.
Critics of 5G Evolution point out that 5G does not exist yet. Furthermore, 5G will use millimeter wave (mmWave) band transmission and new antenna types. They state that 5G Evolution is faster 4G LTE, not 5G.
AT&T’s Second Field Trial
In June 2017, AT&T launched its second field trial with DIRECTV NOW in Austin using mmWave technology. Residential, small business, and enterprise locations are participating in the trial using Ericsson’s 5G RAN and Intel® 5G Mobile Trial Platform. Trial participants are able to stream live TV over a fixed, wireless 5G signal. Concurrently, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has accelerated their 5G New Radio (NR) timeline. This means that standards-based mobile 5G services could be available to consumers in 2018.
The Austin trials yielded information on how weather, environment, foliage, device placement, and building materials affected signal and system performance. The trials demonstrated speeds of 1 gbps and latency rates under 10 milliseconds for the radio link. On August 30, 2017, AT&T announced that it was expanding its fixed wireless 5G trials to Waco, Texas, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana.
Verizon, Qualcomm, and Novatel Wireless
In October 2017, Verizon, Qualcomm, and Novatel Wireless began a collaboration for the development and deployment of 5G NR mmWave technology. Their goal is a full-scale commercial deployment by 2020. Their initial focus is the 5G NR operation in 28 GHz and 39 GHz mmWave spectrum bands with plans to deliver a common technology platform for mobile and home broadband wireless access.
The collaboration will include over-the-air trials in 2018 that will utilize the following Qualcomm technology:
- 5G NR mmWave mobile test platforms operating at 28 GHz and 39 GHz
- MIMO antenna technology with adaptive beamforming and beam tracking techniques
- These trials will drive the development of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon™ X50 5G NR modem family.
The GSM Association (GSMA) is an industry trade body that represents mobile network operators. GSMA has 1,200 members, 800 of which are mobile operators. Its headquarters are in London, and its website is “http://www.gsma.com/”.
According to a GSMA report published in October 2017, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will be the first region in the world to have commercial 5G networks. This report also made two other predictions.
By 2025, there will be 50 million 5G connections with 5G networks serving 30% of the population in the MENA region.
By 2035, 5G will result in more than $12 trillion in global income and 22 million jobs worldwide.