AT&T said Dallas, Waco and Atlanta will be among a dozen cities where the carrier will deploy 5G-based mobile services by the end of 2018.
AT&T plans to identify the other deployment markets in the coming months.
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AT&T reiterated that its mobile 5G deployment will be based on emerging 3GPP standards, holding that the offering will integrate with current LTE technologies using the non-standalone configuration outlined in 3GPP release 15. AT&T claims that the equipment being rolled out to its LTE network will enable a migration to 5G.
Additionally, AT&T’s mobile 5G rollout will operate over millimeter wave spectrum in some areas (it began to conduct 5G trials with millimeter wave spectrum in mid-2106), but also expects to provide mobile 5G using additional spectrum bands.
Given the limitations of millimeter wave spectrum (it needs almost perfect line-of-site and is susceptible to blockage from trees, foliage and buildings, for example) some mobile and wireless experts believe that 5G will need to run on a “dual-PHY” network that employs a fallback to sub-6 GHz spectrum.
Early on, as AT&T awaits handsets that support 5G to emerge, it will initially deploy 5G-based mobile services using a small router-like device that can connect other devices to the 5G network.
“Think of it as a puck,” Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman, president and CEO, said on the company’s Q4 call in late January. “The thing [that’s] going to cause 5G to go slow, more than anything else – it’s just avaialbity of handsets,” he said, adding that AT&T will be “pushing the vendors” to accelerate their work with 5G-ready handsets
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AT&T plans to add more 5G- capable mobile devices and smartphones by “early 2019.”
AT&T is also moving ahead with a software defined network deployment that, it says, will go “hand in hand” with 5G. AT&T said it hit its goal to have 55% of its network virtualized by end of 2017 and that the current plan is virtualize 75% by 2020.