AT&T: 5G likely to scale commercially by late 2019

Commercial deployments of both fixed and wireless 5G could occur by late next year, according to AT&T. That is roughly a year earlier than was predicted just a few months ago.

Industry insiders have generally targeted 2020 as the year 5G begins to gain traction in the United States, with the development of standards being perhaps the biggest challenge to overcome before deployment of next-generation networks and services. But development of standards has moved more quickly than anticipated, said Scott Mair, AT&T’s senior vice president of technology planning and engineering, during an investors conference this morning focusing on 5G.

And that will pave the way for earlier-than-expected rollouts.

“The way the standards are going to play out—there’s a lot of clarity now, I think, on how 5G actually comes to market,” said Mair, citing the 3GPP’s approval earlier this year to bump up the completion of the non-standalone (NSA) implementation of 5G New Radio (NR) from late 2018 to mid-2017. The 3GPP “made a decision to pull forward the hardware and chip standards that will be out by the end of 2017. The long pole in the tent is usually the hardware and chipset development, so those standards will be out at the end of ’17.”

Those standards will address both fixed wireless and mobile 5G, he continued. And they’ll lay the groundwork for commercial deployments of both segments as soon as late 2018.

“So instead of scaling in 2020, we’re going to see scaling in 2019, I think, in the commercial space,” Mair continued. “And the standards done in that body (the 3GPP) is what’s going to be able to make that happen.”

Meanwhile, AT&T continues to play a role in the development of those standards. Mair said the carrier will start a trial in Austin, Texas, in the next two to three weeks, with multiple customer types including residential, small businesses and enterprises. “Using DirecTV Now we’re really going to load up on the capability of 5G to understand the performance characteristics; the things we need to understand for (the development of) those standards…. All the data we get out of those trials fold back into standards.”