Fifth Generation or 5G technology is a way off from broad deployment, but AT&T is laying claim to what it believes is the first U.S. business customer trial in Austin, Texas.
In collaboration with Ericsson and Intel, the carrier announced on Dec. 5 its first public 5G demonstration featuring streaming 4K HD video, real-time camera feeds and speeds of almost 14 gigabytes per second.
The demonstration of millimeter wave (mmWave) technology to power a 5G network experience in one of Intel’s Austin offices. AT&T said the trial is important because it takes the technology out of the lab and into the field to see how it can serve real-world business customers.
“We expect mmWave technology to be an important part of 5G. The trial will help accelerate our 5G work by shedding new light on how the technology acts in a business environment,” Rick Hubbard, senior vice president of Networking Product Management at AT&T, said in a statement.
The trial will use bandwidth speeds of more than a gigabit per second to test multiple enterprise proof of concept use cases. AT&T said these will include internet access, VPN, Unified Communications applications and 4K video streams. When it's widely available, 5G promises significant increases in speed—as much as 10 to 100 times more than LTE—which will mean being able to download a full-length, high-definition movie on a smartphone in seconds rather than minutes.
Mobile video in particular is expected to be a compelling use case for 5G technology.
“The future of video is mobile. And the future of mobile is video,” said Tom Keathley, senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design, AT&T. “Mobile video streaming continues to be a vital aspect of our 5G work, and this trial gives us an opportunity to test 4K HD video streaming across further physical distances between pieces of equipment. With our 5G and 4G LTE advancements, we expect speeds rivaling what we see from cable providers. Our path to 5G will help make this vision a reality faster.”
Other companies such as chip giant Qualcomm, are working to aid the transition to 5G. In October Qualcomm unveiled plans to expand its reach in the camera space by developing hardware and software designed for video and imaging devices beyond the cameras found in mobile devices. That announcement included the introduction of a 5G modem chipset for connected cameras.
Analyst Tim Bajarin also sees the potential for 5G to serve as the connected layer powering the Internet of Things (IoT) in smart cities and smart homes
“I consider 5G to be a disruptive technology that will impact all levels of communications and be very important to the growth of all levels of connected technology in the future,” Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told eWEEK, though he said broad deployment is a few years away.
“Initial Trials and build out will run through 2019-2020 with the goal of delivering the first generation of 5G wireless networks in a good part of the U.S. by 2020-2021,” said Bajarin.
Competitors such as Verizon are expected to begin 5G trials in 2017. Carriers hope that broad deployment of 5G will spark the same or even greater jump in smartphone sales and mobile services that the earlier move from 3G to 4G did.
But there are challenges ahead. Just on a logistical level, there’s the issue of getting local officials in municipalities across the nation to agree to the installation of 5G equipment. Currently there are just over 200,000 cell towers in the United States, but millions of small cell sites will be required for the deployment of 5G.
In a speech earlier this fall Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said the wireless industry needs "to tell the story of what 5G is—and not just in terms of technology, but as deliverables that mean something to real people.”