AT&T, JBG Smith disclose plans for at-scale 5G smart city

AT&T on Tuesday said it signed a letter of intent with real-estate owner and developer JBG Smith to build the first at-scale 5G smart city in the U.S.

A definitive agreement is expected in the coming weeks.

The 5G smart city is planned for the Washington, D.C., area, in National Landing – described as central location of three neighborhoods including Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard (and home to Amazon’s second headquarters).

AT&T plans to use both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave 5G, with initial infrastructure deployments slated to start in the first half of 2022. From there they’ll expand as the community is built out.  

In National Landing, JBG Smith has a portfolio of existing mixed-use properties, with 6.8 million square feet of office space and 2,856 residential units. There are 808 units under construction and 7.2 million square feet of additional space that could be developed into commercial, multi-family and retail locations.

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The carrier said it could serve as a prototype for smart cities of the future, with an eye on applications like self-driving vehicles, immersive retail and entertainment, building automation and environmental sustainability.

Plans look to combine mmWave and sub-6 GHz capabilities thanks to interconnected infrastructure that includes building side-mounts, street furniture and underground network assets. It would cover the submarket across Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia.

AT&T 5G smart city rendering
Rendering of National Landing (AT&T and JBG Smith)

“Together with JBG SMITH, we intend to build a true smart city from the ground up that will allow future innovators to use AT&T’s network to unlock new capabilities through city-wide edge solutions that can serve specific business locations and everyday users at home or on the go,” said Mo Katibeh, head of AT&T’s Network Infrastructure Build, in a statement. “This includes enabling immersive virtual and augmented reality and the massive IoT connections that will become a hallmark of National Landing as the most connected city in the country.”

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Notably, JBG Smith is also helping to develop Amazon’s 4.7 million-square-foot second headquarters, called HQ2, located in National Landing in Arlington. In May, CNBC reported that Amazon was aiming to fill 1,900 roles at H2Q and surrounding area, including for its cloud-computing divisions.

AT&T didn’t mention any vendor partners in its smart city announcement but did call out 5G with local area compute edges that would enable a common customer experience across the different types of real estate assets.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has struck deals for cloud and edge services with a number of operators (including Verizon and Dish), but has been less on the radar with AT&T. The carrier earlier this month announced co-developed products for 5G edge compute with Google Cloud and had tapped IBM and Microsoft (AT&T’s also shifting its 5G core network to the Azure cloud).  

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In addition to Amazon’s second headquarters, JBG Smith is the master developer on a $1 billion Innovation Campus for Virginia Tech (a Potomac Yard property in Alexandria).  Plans for the Innovation Campus had been announced in 2018 as part of the Commonwealth’s bid to attract Amazon’s HQ2.

Putting 5G smart city plans in this area is in part meant to attract innovators, as AT&T cited walkability to both Amazon and Virginia Tech, as well as the Pentagon, Boeing’s East Coast headquarters (separately Boeing committed $50 million as a foundational partner of the VT Innovation Campus), and Reagan National Airport.

“The goal of this collaboration with AT&T is to further enhance National Landing and create the only neighborhood that provides entrepreneurs, universities, and global technology companies the digital infrastructure necessary to shape the future of their industries,” said Matt Kelly, CEO at JBG Smith, in a statement. “We want to equip innovators with the foundational amenities to revolutionize the way they work, giving them an edge above their competition and the confidence to choose National Landing as their home to ideate and innovate locally – and scale globally.”

AT&T 5G smart city illustrative
Illustrative view of the planned 5G smart city. (AT&T and JBG Smith)

Showcasing 5G-enabled innovation not only for industry, but government as well, is another aim. AT&T noted the location, close to Capitol Hill, the White House and regulators could present opportunities for companies to highlight benefits from an open and interoperable technology ecosystem.

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The announcement cited a vision for industry zones focused on creation and development in the areas of defense, cybersecurity, cloud/edge computing, IoT, and artificial intelligence.

Fierce reached out to AT&T for additional information, including potential partners and investments.

“With many different stakeholders involved, there could be a myriad of technologies, spectrum types, and other enabling functions creating a cross functional ecosystem of partners to support this initiative. We can’t disclose all of the details at this time, but as we continue to build on the foundation underway, more information will be shared around the structure and opportunities for all those involved,” AT&T stated in a response to questions from Fierce.

Updated to correct the timing of initial infrastructure deployments as first half of 2022, not 2020.