Telecom giant AT&T has announced that it would start rolling out ultra-high speed 5G network in Austin and Indianapolis in the coming months. At an event in San Francisco, AT&T called the new network “5G Evolution.” It will offer an initial top speed of 400Mbps, which is about 40 times faster than the normal LTE speed. There is still room for the speed to increase to 1Gbps with techniques such as carrier aggregation.
AT&T gearing up to connect tomorrow’s technologies
There is currently no 5G standard, and the technology is still in its infancy. The rollout is part of the company’s broader network upgrade program called Indigo. As part of the initiative, AT&T will move from hardware elements to software-defined networking (SDN). AT&T’s chief strategy officer John Donovan likened Indigo to an operating system for the network. The company aims to move 75% of its network from hardware elements to software by 2020.
The upgrade program will make every element of the network more efficient, and ready to tackle the next-gen technology. Massive bandwidth and low latency will help A&T maintain an edge in connecting tomorrow’s technologies such as the Internet of things, self-driving cars, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. The company has also open-sourced its orchestration platform ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy).
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AT&T to build two testbeds in Austin
ECOMP is a network operating system that forms the backbone of AT&T’s software-defined network. It is basically an automation software that helps virtualize the network. In December, the company launched its first business customer trial of 5G in collaboration with Intel and Ericsson in Austin. It was followed by a trial with DirecTV in the same city.
AT&T will also build two testing labs in Austin this spring. The testbeds will support a wireless 5G connection for streaming DirecTV Now to residential and business customers. John Donovan believes customers won’t care about data rates and megabits once 5G is rolled out, thanks to its incredibly high speeds. AT&T’s rival Verizon has also been pursuing 5G technology.
Full 5G rollout still a few years away
Analysts said last year that complete rollout of 5G by AT&T and Verizon is unlikely to cover most part of the United States before 2019 or 2020. Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner said AT&T’s plans for Austin and Indianapolis show that the company is “charging hard with 5G.” Though 5G standards have not officially been approved yet, a key difference between AT&T and Verizon is that the former is pursuing standards-based 5G while the latter is going ahead with pre-standards-based network, said Entner.
Even after the service is ready, don’t expect too many cool devices compatible with the technology to be available in the market. Historically, cellular technologies have launched with limited hardware choices, says Engadget. It will become a meaningful upgrade only after the technology has matured. Initial devices are also expected to be bulky rather than cool.