AT&T joins Verizon on early 5G tests in the U.S. this year

by: Kris CarlonFebruary 12, 2016


AT&T has confirmed that it, like Verizon, will begin testing 5G networks in the U.S. in 2016, with plans to introduce commercial services for fixed 5G later in the year. This is not to be confused with wireless 5G which won’t be commercially viable until around 2020 (or 2018 if you live in South Korea). But with speeds of 10-100 times that of the fastest 4G/LTE networks, any 5G is good 5G.

5G Huawei -2See also: 4G and 5G wireless: How they are alike and how they differ6

AT&T is looking to test fixed 5G connections as a possible alternative to fiber optic broadband connections in rural areas. “Ultimately as an integrated carrier we have a lot of incentive to (add) any new technology (to our) footprint, particularly if that 5G for fixed usage has better economics than fiber in certain locales,” said John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer.

Getting in early on a fixed line 5G network will obviously provide an advantage when the cellular version gets standardized in the coming years, with the expectation of an agreed-upon 5G standard for wireless to be worked out in 2018. AT&T is confident that its early forays into 5G networks will pay off in years to come for wireless 5G. As Donovan confided, “when it’s ready, we’re ready.”

AT&T Logo Shutterstock

Verizon announced similar plans last year and has already been cooperating with Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia and Cisco in testing its early 5G network. AT&T announced it will be working with Intel and Ericsson on its first trials, which will begin in the second quarter of this year.

While these efforts to be on the front foot are laudable, it’s important to note that without a formalized standard, what’s called “5G” now might be a long way from what 5G ends up being classified as in two years’ time. The basic themes of 5G (which requires a generational shift from 4G) are: extremely low latency, speed matching, multiple-user and multi-stream connections, pervasiveness and data speeds that are 10-100 times faster than current 4G connections.

The road to 5G

While the concept of pervasiveness means that “true” 5G won’t be true 5G until it is everywhere – with no areas of weak reception or no connection at all – the other themes are already in play in various 5G test that have been conducted for the last several years. T-Mobile is currently the fastest LTE network in the U.S. with download speeds of 12.26 MB/s, whereas 5G download speeds have already been demoed as fast as 3.6 GB/s.

The fastest theoretical LTE speeds currently are 150 MB/s while the various top speeds tossed around in 5G discussions so far have been anywhere from 10 GB/s to 20 GB/s. Of course the average person won’t see these speeds, but even something like 5 GB/s will be light years better than anything most of us have ever imagined.

AT&T will begin testing its fixed line 5G network in Austin in the next few months, with commercial rollout in the latter half of the year if the tests are successful. Verizon is testing its 5G network in San Francisco and Waltham, Mass.

When do you expect to see 5G? What are you expecting from next-gen data speeds?

  • Pretty sure you mean bits, not bytes. 10GB/s = 80Gbps

  • Glenn Gore

    If the fastest theoretical LTE speeds currently are 150 Mb/s, and the real-world experience for most of today’s users is in the 20-40 Mb/s range, I would certainly expect MUCH more than that with 5G. What users are experiencing today in the real world is much more dependent on what frequency is being used and how much bandwidth a carrier has available in that given market license area than anything else. You can’t deliver 150 Mb/s on a 5 MHz channel if that’s all the spectrum the carrier has available to use.

    So this begs the question, what sort of bandwidth is being used to get the 5 Gb/s numbers that are being tossed about? If we’re going to talk “real-world”, then lets consider what it would be like for a carrier who only has 5 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum in a given market to work with and throw out the numbers that customer might realistically get to see.

    Then lets talk about what all this is going to do to the traditional 1, 2, 5, or even 10 Gb data plan? The carriers created an artificial data shortage when they came up with these plans and eliminated unlimited data plans, so is the capacity to deliver these new enormous amounts of data going to be there when the carriers start rolling out this ultra-fast 5G service?

  • Hard Little Machine

    Sprint is rolling out smoke signal bandwidth this year

    • SprintHater

      lol, Im so glad i ditched them 5 years ago.

      Is the service still slow?

      • Hard Little Machine


  • disqus_ZDLhvuO7w5

    Will the crop of phones being released in 2016 be 5G compatible? If not, who’s going to be using this network?

    • Jon S

      No. No phone today has the hardware and manufacturers will not include 5g hardware until there is sufficient infrastructures available.

  • vahdyx

    I feel like improving coverage would be more important. I am satisfied with the current speed at the moment. More of course is better but I don’t want this to take away from improving what we have now for more reliability.

  • sachouba

    “the fastest LTE network in the U.S. with download speeds of 12.26 MB/s”
    Wow, I didn’t know the networks were that bad in the USA…

    • Jon S

      This is for rural areas. City coverage will yield 80 mb/s or more depending on phone and carrier…

    • thatguyyoulove

      12.26 MB/s is 98 Mb/s. That’s pretty damn quick for mobile.

      • sachouba

        There’s a lot of confusion between MB/s and Mb/s in this article. The author means Mb/s when he writes “MB/s” (I’ve just checked the linked articles).

  • bigbuc

    I’m rural. no broadband available, unless you count satellite (hah). right in the middle of Texas. I expect to begin seeing 5g after 6g begins deployment. I have an AT&T and tmobile tower on my place and only just now got LTE, but it’s half speed of the towers at the nearest Walmart.