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AT&T to test first 5G wireless systems this year

Network operator announces plans to test 5G technology to provide wireless connectivity before the end of 2016

Telecoms and mobile operator AT&T has announced a 5G mobile network roadmap and said it will conduct field trials of 5G technologies to provide wireless connectivity to fixed locations before the year is out.

The operator said it would embark on a laboratory-based collaboration with Ericsson and Intel to work on 5G systems this spring, with outdoor tests and trials to take place over the summer ahead of the field trials, which are to take place in Austin, Texas.

It said the trials would help guide its 5G standards contributions and set the stage for commercial availability when 5G networks eventually come to fruition.

As is now widely known, 5G is expected to bring speeds of up to 100 times as fast as the average 4G long term evolution (LTE) connection currently available. It is held to be ideal to support bandwidth-hungry applications around video, virtual and augmented reality and the internet of things (IoT), because it will support multiple radio interfaces and use radio spectrum much more efficiently.

“Experiences such as virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before,” said AT&T chief strategy officer and group president of technology and operations John Donovan.

“These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to demands and give customers more control of their network services.

“Our approach is simple – deliver a unified experience built with 5G, SDN, big data, security and open source software.”

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Arun Bansal, senior vice-president and head of business radio at Ericsson, added:“5G will affect the entire mobile network – from devices to access and core to cloud – and open up exciting IoT applications for consumers and industry. 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.”

The operator hopes to conduct its trials in such a way that it will be able to turn on a sixpence and move rapidly towards compliant commercial deployments of 5G once standards are agreed, which will likely be in 2018.

Emerging technology

AT&T will call on a number of advanced and emerging areas of networking technology, including millimetre waves, network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), all of which it has been working on for some time

Both NFV and SDN are built on the tried and tested idea that traditional hardware-reliant architectures are complex and cumbersome. AT&T believes these software-based networking models will be instrumental in enabling quicker and easier deployment of 5G networks once the time comes.

It already has plans to virtualise 75% of its network by 2020, and is well on the way to hitting 30% in 2016, and claims to have 14 million wireless customers already using the virtualised network.

Additionally, said AT&T, virtualising the network has allowed it to cut the cost of data on its network, which means the operator was recently able to reintroduce an unlimited data plan for US consumer customers.

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