AT&T clocks gigabit 5G connections in first three cities

5G trials with residential and business customers in Texas, Michigan, and Indiana have provided AT&T with data on its mmWave deployments, with speeds consistently hitting 1Gbps.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

AT&T has provided an update of its live 5G trials, with the carrier saying it is planning to offer 5G devices to its customers by the end of 2018.

According to a blog post by president of Technology and Operations Melissa Arnoldi, AT&T is using its current 5G trials to gather "mountains of data and insights" on what is working, what needs to be changed, why certain results are occurring, whether millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum is working for 5G, and how it can hit high speeds.

"We had a lot of questions when we started, and we're confident we have all the answers we need to deploy a mobile 5G network that works for people all over the country," Arnoldi wrote.

Through the trial in Waco, Texas, Arnoldi said AT&T was able to attain 1.2Gbps speeds over an mmWave 5G service to locations more than 150 metres away from the cell site, with latency of between 9 and 12 milliseconds.

Small and medium-sized businesses participated in the Waco trial, with AT&T saying it was able to support "hundreds of simultaneous connected users using the 5G network".

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, AT&T provided its small business participants in the trial with gigabit speeds in line-of-sight conditions at a distance of 900 feet, with mmWave signals penetrating through "significant foliage, glass, and even walls better than initially anticipated".

"Observed no impacts on 5G mmWave signal performance due to rain, snow, or other weather events," Arnoldi added on the Michigan trial.

Lastly, the 5G trial in South Bend, Indiana, made use of an end-to-end 5G network architecture, including a radio system and core, providing 1Gbps speeds in line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight scenarios, as well as "extremely low latency".

The South Bend trial was the only one to include residential customers in addition to small business participants.

"We worked with a variety of customers in different parts of the country to conduct these trials. From a small car wash in north Austin to the popular Magnolia Silos in Waco, to a family in South Bend, we wanted to see how 5G and mmWave worked in every type of environment for every type of customer," Arnoldi wrote.

"These trial learnings are guiding our commercial 5G launches this year, and will help ensure we're building a 5G network that is both real and reliable for everyone."

During Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in Barcelona in February, SVP of Wireless Network Architecture and Design Igal Elbaz told ZDNet that AT&T is ahead of the curve on 5G thanks to its focus on edge computing and network virtualisation.

The carrier is the global frontrunner in "standards-based mobile 5G", Elbaz said, after it announced in January that it will be providing non-standalone (NSA) 5G services in around 12 markets by late 2018.

"We are very uniquely positioned because of our experience in SDN, and because of what we are doing in 5G, and because of what we are doing in edge," he told ZDNet at MWC.

"And you're seeing in all three dimensions, we're very active in each one of them; we believe that we have a very unique not just opportunity but an advantage in terms of how we think about the network and how we should deploy it."

AT&T's initial 12 5G networks, the first three of which are its current trial sites in Dallas, Atlanta, and Waco, will be deployed using the 5G 3GPP standards set in December.

AT&T has yet to announce what vendors it's working with, or the remaining nine cities to gain 5G by the end of the year, with Elbaz saying more information on this will be provided in the next few months.

While these initial networks will use only mmWave spectrum, the SVP also said that AT&T's nationwide rollout will utilise its low- and mid-band spectrum in future.

Its focus on not only taking part in but also pushing 5G standards forward while trialling the technology has also put it in a prime position for deployment, Elbaz added.

"This is why we think we could be first -- it's because we're very active in the standards, besides we've done a lot of trials in '16 and '17," he told ZDNet. "We're very active in the standards, we believe that's the right way to do it; in fact, we've expedited them."

The carrier's aim to virtualise 75 percent of its network by 2020 will also put it in a good position for 5G, Elbaz said.

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