AT&T to run field trials of 5G wireless in Austin this year

Move is well ahead of industry standard for faster 5G

AT&T announced today it will being field trials of faster 5G wireless technology this summer in Austin, Texas.

The 3GPP industry standard for 5G, also known as Fifth Generation wireless, is not expected to be completed until 2020, with the earliest phase completed in 2018.

Wireless speeds with 5G could be 10 to 100 times faster than with 4G LTE, which generally averages in the 10 Mbps to 20 Mbps range for users downloading data.

Both AT&T and Verizon have ambitious 5G rollout plans, prompted by the recent explosion of wireless video and Internet of Things connectivity. AT&T estimates that its wireless network grew 150,000% from 2007 to 2015, largely because of video traffic; more than 60% of its wireless traffic in 2015 was video.

Self-driving cars, robots, smart cities and other technologies are expected to test networks like never before, and "5G will will help make them a reality," said John Donovan, chief strategy officer at AT&T Technology and Operations.

AT&T said it is working with Ericsson and Intel on laboratory tests of 5G in the second quarter, with the outdoor tests and trials starting in the summer. By the end of the year, AT&T expects to make 5G connections to fixed locations, such as buildings and homes, while wireless connections to moving objects, like cars and devices used by passengers aboard trains, are harder to achieve.

AT&T's trials are intended to precede full 5G standard adoption so that the carrier can "pivot to compliant commercial deployments once 5G technology standards are set," AT&T said in a statement.

The advent of 5G will be more efficient and cost-effective for carriers. AT&T plans to build its version of 5G on a software-centric architecture that adapts quickly to new demands, Donovan said. That means AT&T will deliver 5G in connection with software defined networks (SDN), big data, new security tools and open source software, he added.

SDN is expected to allow AT&T to virtualize 75% of its network by 2020. In 2015, about 6% was virtualized, a number that should reach 30% in 2016. About 14 million wireless customers use the virtualized network already. SDN that uses open source software will save costs, as well.

WIth a virtualized network, AT&T can turn routers, firewalls and other network equipment into virtual functions that run on commodity hardware, primarily servers.

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