AT&T pushes pre-5G network for Super Bowl

AT&T has spent more than $40 million improving its network throughout Minneapolis ahead of Super Bowl LII, including antenna upgrades in the stadium and city.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

AT&T has announced spending over $40 million to improve its mobile network throughout the city and stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ahead of next month's Super Bowl and the expected influx of around 1 million people.

Flagging in November that it intended to launch its "5G Evolution" network across Minneapolis by the end of 2017, AT&T has now detailed the technologies behind the upgrade.

"We've been working for over a year to boost the network in Minneapolis for the Big Game. We've done this through a series of permanent and temporary upgrades throughout the city," the operator explained.

AT&T has upgraded its Distributed Antenna System (DAS) inside the stadium to offer almost 220 percent more LTE capacity, with 800 antennas spread throughout the venue to cope with the heavy mobile traffic.

The carrier has also upgraded or installed DAS at 16 areas throughout the city, in order to improve coverage at hotels, venues, airports, convention centres, and arenas.

"We've upgraded the DAS at the airport and installed a new DAS at the convention centre in Minneapolis. We've also installed a new DAS at Nomadic Live at The Armory to enhance coverage for all the fans headed to the concert venue each night," AT&T said.

Temporary improvements to increase capacity and network speeds during the week leading up to and during Super Bowl LII will involve the deployment of 10 cells on wheels (COWs), including a Super COW in the Stadium Commons area and COWs on the north and south sides of the stadium.

There are also COWs near Summit Avenue and 35E; on Nicollet Avenue for pre-game events; near Mystic Lake for pre-game concerts; and near the mall in Bloomington to account for increased tourism.

AT&T said its 5G Evolution network is now live in parts of Minneapolis, with the carrier using technologies such as 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), 3x carrier aggregation, and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Moderation (256 QAM).

Combined with its DAS upgrades, consumers with compatible devices -- including the Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy S8+, Samsung Galaxy S8 Active, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, Moto Z2 Force Edition, and the Netgear Nighthawk Hotspot router -- will see increased speeds and capacity.

AT&T said 122 additional or enhanced cell sites have been improved under the project.

"We've been working closely with the city of Minneapolis to ensure its network is ready to support the technology of the future. The investments we're making prepare us for the future of 5G and innovations like smarter cities and immersive entertainment experiences like augmented and virtual reality," AT&T said at the end of last year.

"We've overloaded the stadium with wireless capacity and boosted LTE capacity by more than 150 percent compared to last year. With more than 800 antennas, the network inside the stadium alone could provide coverage to the entire city of Minneapolis."

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

In addition to Minneapolis, Austin, and Indianapolis, its 5G Evolution network technology has now been deployed in 21 other metro areas: Atlanta, Georgia; San Antonio and Houston, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Hartford and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Buffalo, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno, California; Greenville, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Earlier this month, AT&T announced that it will be providing 5G services in around 12 markets by late 2018, making it one of the current global frontrunners, with plans to offer the service to consumers while it trials 5G technology with businesses across all industries.

Calling it an "ambitious milestone", AT&T said these 5G networks will be ready by the end of the year thanks to 3GPP completing 5G New Radio (5G NR) standards in December.

"We're moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year," president of AT&T Technology and Operations Melissa Arnoldi said.

"With faster speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video, and more."

It last month kicked off its biggest 5G trial network in Waco, Texas, using millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum and 5G radio and antenna prototypes after announcing in August 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 the end of December, AT&T also combined with Ericsson on 5G NR interoperability trials.

OpenSignal carrier speeds: Sprint and T-Mobile up, AT&T and Verizon down

According to a report by OpenSignal, a year on from AT&T and Verizon introducing unlimited plans, their 4G LTE speeds have now begun recovering after the initial struggle to handle customers' constant downloading and streaming of content.

In August, OpenSignal had reported AT&T's average LTE download speed as falling by 1Mbps, while Verizon's had dropped by 2Mbps within six months, but both have now "stanched the bleeding".

"After six straight months of tracking decreases in LTE speeds, in September speeds for both operators levelled out in our measurements, and in Verizon's case, speeds started creeping back upward," OpenSignal reported.

"The bad news is in November, both AT&T and Verizon were still well short of their 4G speed highs established in February [2017]."

On the other hand, OpenSignal reported Sprint and T-Mobile as having increased their speeds during the same 11-month period, with T-Mobile almost 3Mbps ahead of Verizon in November.

"Sprint and T-Mobile seem to have taken advantage of AT&T and Verizon's period of decline. Sprint's speeds have been both up and down in the last year, but it ended November on a new high," OpenSignal added.

"T-Mobile really took advantage of the situation to solidify its position on the top of our 4G speed chart. T-Mobile posted steady gains in 4G speed in our measurements in nearly every month of 2017 ... by November, T-Mobile had established itself as the clear leader in our 4G speed metric."

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