AT&T Hits Back at Verizon, Announces 5G Field Trials in 2016

AT&T made waves earlier today when it announced that it had laid the groundwork for an ambitious plan to test 5G in select US areas later this summer ahead of its major rivals, leaving open the possibility of limited commercial availability this year depending on trial results. This throws a wrench in the plans of competitor Verizon, which notably announced last September that it intended to be the first wireless service provider to launch 5G in the US.

Major components of its roadmap for bringing fast, flexible, and reliable connectivity and next-generation wireless service to consumers included healthy doses of SDN, NFV, and technologies such as millimeter waves, according to AT&T’s press release.

Not only has AT&T been filing a bevy of 5G-associated patents in recent years, it also paved the way for its 5G pivot when it announced plans back in 2014 to virtualize 75% of its network by 2020 (it expects to reach 30% virtualization by 2016 with over 14 million subscribers supported).

5G lab trials are slated to commence in Q2 of this year, in collaboration with its partners Ericsson and Nokia,with field tests scheduled for the summer. If successful, AT&T boasts that it will be setting the stage for widespread 5G services at speeds that are 10-100 times faster than current 4G LTE standards with latency limited to between 1 and 5 milliseconds.

John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President of AT&T Technology also spoke to the important role that such service would play in ushering in and supporting the advent of new immersive technologies, ranging from IoT to virtual reality and self-driving cars: “These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services. Our approach is simple – deliver a unified experience built with 5G, software-defined networking (SDN), Big Data, security and open source software.”

Of course, these plans are also contingent on the FCC expeditiously “adopting rules to facilitate 5G deployment,” Verizon CFO Fran Shammo noted during Verizon’s Q4 conference call on January 21, 2016.

Actual 5G standards are not expected to materialize fully until 2018 at the earliest, but AT&T is arguing that its forays into 5G trials and testing place it in a better position to pivot and adapt to those standards once the have been set.

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