AT&T to Begin 5G Wireless Field Trials This Year

Ericsson and Intel are being brought in as partners to continue to expand AT&T's 5G roadmap efforts, with the first trials set to take place in Austin, Texas.

AT&T, 5G networks, 5G field trials, Verizon, 4G LTE, wireless carriers, mobile carriers, smartphones, tablets, Ericsson, Intel

AT&T will begin field trials of its 5G wireless technologies later this summer after conducting extensive lab development and testing with several partners in the second quarter of 2016.

The company unveiled its 5G roadmap and testing plans in a Feb. 11 announcement as it continues to work on the creation of its next-generation wireless network across the nation.

As the trials move closer, AT&T said it will partner with Ericsson and Intel in its labs starting in the second quarter to work on the project. Field tests of the 5G systems are expected to begin in Austin, Texas, to provide wireless connectivity to fixed locations there before the end of 2016, the company stated. The trials will help AT&T guide its own contributions toward emerging 5G standards and set the stage for widespread commercial and mobile availability once those standards are established.

When completed, 5G wireless systems are expected to deliver speeds 10 to 100 times faster than the average 4G LTE connections of today, according to AT&T. Speeds will be measured in gigabits per second, rather than in megabits per second, meaning at 1 gigabit per second a user could download a TV show in less than 3 seconds.

"New experiences like virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before," John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T technology and operations, said in a statement. "These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality."

AT&T is working on technologies including millimeter waves, network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) to help it build its 5G network plans, the company stated.

5G is needed as consumers and business users continue to demand more and more data capacity, with data traffic growing on AT&T's wireless network by more than 150,000 percent from 2007 to 2015, driven largely by video, the company said.

International standards for 5G networks are still in the works by international standards body 3GPP (3rd Generation Partner Project)—which gave the go-ahead to the 4G LTE standard. In March 2015, the 3GPP rolled out a tentative timeline for 5G that doesn't show a standard for the technology being approved until 2020, though that hasn't stopped networking technology vendors and component makers from making moves to embrace 5G.

AT&T is monitoring the developing standards so it can meet or exceed them as they are finalized.

"AT&T's 5G field trials will play an important role in ensuring rapid and wide-scale adoption of this next generation mobile technology," Arun Bansal, senior vice president and head of business unit radio at Ericsson, said in a statement. "5G will impact the entire mobile network—from devices to access and core to cloud—and open up exciting new IoT [Internet of things] applications for consumers and industry, so Ericsson is enabling AT&T to move beyond 5G lab tests to gain a greater understanding of 5G's potential in their own network environments and markets."

Wireless competitor Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, announced its own 5G roadmap and testing plans last September, according to an earlier eWEEK story. Verizon has been working with a range of partners—including networking technology vendors Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Nokia Networks and chip makers Qualcomm and Samsung—to test 5G starting this year.

The Verizon and AT&T 5G field trials come as most consumers and businesses are still embracing 4G LTE speeds and networks. 5G is expected to drop the latency of wireless networks into the single milliseconds, which will make them more efficient than today's networks. It's also expected to play a significant role in the rapidly growing IoT, as the number of connected devices creating traffic over the world's wireless networks continues to grow.