AT&T kicks off 5G trial in Texas

Magnolia Market in Waco will be one of the biggest testbeds for AT&T's 5G network, with the carrier looking to expand to additional Texan businesses, homes, churches, and education facilities.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

AT&T has kicked off its biggest 5G trial network at lifestyle and homewares centre Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, using millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum and 5G radio and antenna prototypes.

The 5G fixed-wireless trial will see high mobile traffic at Magnolia's The Silos centre, AT&T said, with the connectivity to be enabled via a series of Wi-Fi access points. It will use its network function virtualisation (NFV) platform AT&T FlexWare as the router.

"This is a meaningful and important step in bringing our 5G fixed-wireless trials to Waco starting with the Silos," AT&T SVP of Technology Planning and Engineering Marachel Knight said.

"Taking our 5G tests out of the lab and into real, high-traffic environments like the Silos will bring a fantastic customer experience while helping us learn even more about building a 5G network of the future for both consumers and businesses."

According to the mobile carrier, around 5,000 people work at or visit the Silos centre daily, with Magnolia IT manager David Washburn hoping the utilisation of 5G will improve "efficiencies for vendor partners and employees" using point-of-sale devices and back-office management devices.

AT&T said it plans to expand the trial to further businesses, residents, churches, and large educational facilities in Waco.

"It's important for us to conduct 5G trials like this one and to learn how these technologies function in a real-world environment and help drive outcomes for businesses across all industries," AT&T said.

"Results from these 5G trials will help speed up standards-based 5G deployment as soon as late 2018."

In August, AT&T had announced that it would expand its 5G trials to three more cities by the end of 2017 in Waco, as well as in South Bend, Indiana and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

For those three trial networks, AT&T is using Ericsson's 28GHz radios, virtualised RAN (vRAN), and full 5G virtualised core; Intel's 5G mobile trial platform; Samsung's 5G router, 5G RFIC chipset, virtualised core, and vRAN; and Nokia's 5G equipment and solutions.

AT&T launched its 5G Evolution upgrade on its network in Austin, Texas in June, followed by Indianapolis, Indiana in July.

These trials have seen speeds of up to 1Gbps and latency of less than 10 milliseconds, AT&T said. The network will be rolled out to 20 metro areas by the end of 2017, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville.

It is also aiming to deploy LTE-Licence Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) and 4x carrier aggregation on its 4G network by the end of the year, through which it attained speeds of 750Mbps during a trial in San Francisco.

Last month, it said it would launch its 5G Evolution network across Minneapolis by the end of 2017, involving network upgrades in some areas of the city as well as distributed antenna system (DAS) upgrades at the city's stadium ahead of hosting the 2018 Super Bowl.

The network upgrades involve the addition of 4G LTE-Advanced features including 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), 3x carrier aggregation, and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Moderation (256 QAM).

AT&T last week also announced two trials of its Project AirGig technology with an electricity company outside the US, and with Georgia Power in a rural area of that state. AirGig is designed to deliver 1Gbps speeds via mmWave signals on power lines, but without the need to build mobile towers or bury cable.

"Instead, using AirGig patented technology, we would install devices to provide high-speed broadband which can be clamped on by trained electrical workers in just a few minutes," the company explained.

The carrier said it has spent more than a decade researching the technology, which has involved over 300 patents and patent applications, although there is no timeline planned for commercial deployment.

Earlier this month, AT&T additionally secured a contract with the US Navy to provide mobility services and devices, potentially worth $993 million over five years as it allows the carrier to compete to also supply technology to the US Marine Corps.

Under the Navy contract, AT&T will provide fleet management and asset management solutions; and smart base solutions paired with its IoT sensors for water, energy, lighting, public safety, security, and transportation.

AT&T rolled out an enterprise IoT platform in September, with AT&T Labs VP of Advanced Technology Dr Mazin Gilbert last week saying 5G speeds will have a big impact on IoT, as it will affect edge processing.

"IoT is not about the phone, but billions of devices. A $1 device will have the intelligence of a phone. This fast access will be connected to the edge," Gilbert said.

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