AT&T is testing an early version of its 5G network this year, saying it will be 10 to 100 times faster than LTE and might be used for home Internet service. “An early use of 5G’s underlying technology could be delivering broadband to homes and businesses, and it’s possible that we could have limited commercial availability this year depending on the trials,” an AT&T spokesperson told Ars. This sounds like it could fit in with AT&T plans to provide fixed wireless Internet to areas without good wired broadband.
AT&T’s announcement on Friday said the 5G network will rely on millimeter waves, which are 30GHz and above and require line-of-sight connections. As we’ve written before, 5G will also likely use spectrum below 1GHz in order to connect areas that can’t be covered by extremely high frequencies. With speeds up to 100 times faster than today’s average 4G LTE connections, “customers will see speeds measured in gigabits per second, not megabits,” AT&T said. Latency will also be lowered to about 1 to 5 milliseconds, the company said.
Gigabit speeds would make it pretty easy to blow past a monthly data cap, as AT&T only offers unlimited data to DirecTV or U-verse TV subscribers and longtime customers with grandfathered unlimited plans. AT&T is collaborating with Ericsson and Intel on outdoor trials. “We expect field trials of 5G technologies to provide wireless connectivity to fixed locations in Austin before the end of this year,” AT&T said. “The trials will help guide our 5G standards contributions and set the stage for widespread commercial and mobile availability once technology standards for 5G are established.” LTE could remain AT&T’s primary mobile network technology for a few years. AT&T said it wants to be ready to switch to 5G once the technology standards are set by 3GPP, the international standards body. 3GPP “will likely complete the first phase of that process in 2018,” AT&T said. Besides smartphone data, AT&T says 5G will be used for virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities, and massive sensor networks.
On the back end, AT&T said it is relying heavily on network function virtualization and software-defined networking to reduce the cost of delivering data and to support new applications more quickly. AT&T is trying to ditch the “traditional model [that] relied on complex and cumbersome hardware” in favor of one that “turn[s] routers, firewalls and other network equipment into virtual functions running on commodity hardware,” the company said. Verizon is also planning 5G trials this year.