Posted: February 12, 2016

First 5G Trials In 2016 by AT&TAT&T is unveiling its 5G roadmap to bring customers the next-generation of super-fast, flexible wireless connectivity.

Technologies such as millimeter waves, network function virtualization (NFV), and software-defined networking (SDN) will be among the key ingredients for future 5G experiences. AT&T Labs has been working on these technologies for years and has filed dozens of patents connected with them.

AT&T plans to collaborate with Ericsson and Intel to work on 5G solutions in our labs starting in the second quarter of this year, with outdoor tests and trials over the summer. AT&T expects field trials of 5G technologies to provide wireless connectivity to fixed locations in Austin before the end of this year. The trials will help guide our 5G standards contributions, and set the stage for widespread commercial and mobile availability once technology standards for 5G are established.

AT&T expects 5G to deliver speeds 10-100 times faster than today’s average 4G LTE connections. Customers will see speeds measured in gigabits per second, not megabits. For reference, at one gigabit per second, you can download a TV show in less than 3 seconds. Customers will also see much lower latency with 5G. Latency, for example, is how long it takes after you press play on a video app for the video to start streaming on your device. AT&T expects 5G latency in the range of 1 to 5 milliseconds.

“New experiences like virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before,” said John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President, AT&T Technology and Operations. “These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because they will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services. Our approach is simple – deliver a unified experience built with 5G, software-defined networking (SDN), Big Data, security and open source software.”

AT&T’s 5G Roadmap

Data traffic on AT&T’s wireless network grew more than 150,000% from 2007 through 2015, driven largely by video. More than 60% of the data traffic on our total network was video in 2015. 4K video, virtual reality, and IoT will drive the next wave of traffic growth. 5G is ideal for those bandwidth-hungry applications because it will support multiple radio interfaces, enable more spectrum efficiency, and take advantage of SDN and network function virtualization (NFV).

AT&T is conducting their 5G trials in such a way that they’ll be able to pivot to compliant commercial deployments once 5G technology standards are set. The international standards body, 3GPP, will likely complete the first phase of that process in 2018. Meanwhile, they continue to evolve our 4G network to deliver higher capacity and the best experience for our customers.

5G will be efficient and cost-effective because it will give every customer and device exactly what it needs from the same network – whether it’s 10-year battery life for massive sensor networks or multi-gigabit speeds for large data transfers. AT&T’s global leadership in moving to SDN gives us a head start in supporting exploding growth in mobile video consumption. Combined with their superior spectrum position and broadband build-out commitment to millions of locations throughout the United States, AT&T’s virtualized network will be able to support those next-generation applications quickly and efficiently.

“AT&T’s 5G field trials will play an important role in ensuring rapid and wide-scale adoption of this next generation mobile technology,” said Arun Bansal, Senior Vice President and Head of Business Unit Radio, Ericsson. “5G will impact the entire mobile network – from devices to access and core to cloud – and open up exciting new IoT 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.”

“As early 5G development and trials get underway, industry collaboration is necessary to implement new network architectures and prepare for commercial availability,” said Aicha Evans, corporate vice president and general manager of the Intel Communication and Devices Group. “At Intel, we know that working with partners like AT&T and Ericsson is essential to bringing faster and more efficient wireless networks that will bring new and richer experiences to our lives.”

Unrivaled SDN and NFV Leadership

AT&T has led the industry the last few years in rethinking how companies should design and build their networks. The traditional model relied on complex and cumbersome hardware. But that gear takes too long to deploy and too long to upgrade in the face of the customer demand the industry is experiencing.

The future is software and their transformation is already underway. Just as consumers replaced their bulky stereos with streaming music apps on their phones, AT&T is turning routers, firewalls and other network equipment into virtual functions running on commodity hardware – basically servers.

AT&T announced their SDN strategy in 2014 with plans to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020. They exceeded our first major milestone by virtualizing 5.7% in 2015. In 2016, they’re accelerating to 30%.

They already have 14 million wireless customers on our virtualized network, almost certainly the largest implementation in the world. They’ll migrate millions more this year.

Virtualizing the network is fast, efficient, scalable, and lets the hardware ride the cost and performance curve of Moore’s Law. In fact, cost is one of the critical attributes of NFV and SDN. Lowering the cost to deliver a megabyte of data is one of the reasons they were recently able to bring back an Unlimited Data offer. It also provides a sizable cost advantage in the deployment of 5G technology over a traditional network approach.

Big Data and Open Source Key in AT&T’s Transformation

AT&T is a data-driven enterprise. AT&T is extracting software from hardware. And they’re extracting data from applications. That’s easy to say but difficult to execute. Our Big Data focus enables new ways to optimize our network, to drive smarter decision-making and to better serve our customers.

They’re building many of our 5G and SDN applications using open source software. They’re also contributing code back to the open source community so other innovators can take advantage of what they’ve learned in this transformation. They shared our latest open source milestones last month. AT&T’ll have more to share in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, AT&T is leading the charge to the next generation of the network with 5G and they’re doing it more efficiently than anyone else.

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