AT&T bringing 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and CA to Minneapolis, gears up for Super Bowl

AT&T is bringing 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and 3-way carrier aggregation (CA) to parts of Minneapolis—and it’s making some big enhancements to the stadium where the Super Bowl will be played in February.

The operator announced the launch of its “5G Evolution” in parts of the city, one of 20 markets where it plans to introduce the technology by the end of the year; it’s already available in parts of Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis. The 5G Evolution markets are where AT&T upgrades the cell towers with the triple play of 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and CA, as well as other technologies that all lead to faster speeds.

As for triple-play devices, Apple's iPhone isn't among them, but the LG V30, Moto Z2 Force Edition, Samsung Galaxy Note8, Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy S8+, and Samsung Galaxy S8 Active are already capable of using the technologies simultaneously.  

At the U.S. Bank stadium where the Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 4, 2018, the operator is making significant distributed antenna system (DAS) upgrades, with more than 800 antennas inside the stadium, which it says could provide coverage to the entire city of Minneapolis.  

“The DAS at the stadium is future-ready,” AT&T said. “That means we’ve overloaded the stadium with wireless capacity and boosted LTE capacity by more than 150% compared to last year.”

Just last week, T-Mobile announced that it has expanded LTE Advanced to more than 920 markets, noting the “trifecta” of technologies—CA, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM—that it has live in 430 of those markets. T-Mobile also said it’s launching LAA to further densify the network for speed and capacity.

RELATED: Verizon accuses T-Mobile of making up information on LTE-A deployments

While T-Mobile boasted that it was “eclipsing every other national wireless company,” a claim that was based on what ended up being outdated public information from a Verizon website, Verizon pointed out that it has fully deployed CA across its network in close to 2,000 markets and has 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM deployed in more than 560 markets nationwide—on a network that is 700,000 square miles larger than T-Mobile’s.

Looking at these numbers, AT&T’s targeting of 20 markets with 5G Evolution sounds tiny, but the chasm isn’t as wide as it might seem. “We have LTE-Advanced features in 900 markets and cover nearly 90% of the population,” an AT&T spokesman told FierceWirelessTech.

“We’re not going to suddenly flip a switch and everything is 5G. Rather than a singular event, 5G requires many different components coming together. These include items such as core virtualization, RAN densification, network topology, advancement of data transport between cell sites and core, among others," the spokesman added. "It’s an evolution and that evolution has already begun with technologies such as LTE-Advanced networks with carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM. Getting to 5G requires multiple advances so as you evolve some components of the network you can take full advantage of it with added capabilities.”

No word as to whether Minneapolis is an LAA market. AT&T has previously said that it plans to expand LAA tests to more areas around San Francisco and Indianapolis; tests of LAA in San Francisco earlier this year showed peak speeds of more than 750 Mbps.  

It’s all about getting those gigabit-like speeds. For operators, it means being able to handle increasing video traffic more efficiently. One thing consumers tend to do when they’re on unlimited plans is watch a lot of video, whether it’s “Stranger Things 2” on Netflix or other content on Hulu, YouTube, HBO or something else.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, earlier this year, AT&T showed how users could reach speeds up to 1 Gbps by using LAA in tandem with CA, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM.

In San Jose, California, at an event hosted by Qualcomm and T-Mobile last week, Qualcomm’s senior director of marketing, Peter Carson, called LAA a “great equalizer.” LAA makes a big difference in operators’ ability to offer Gigabit LTE. With the LAA configuration and the Snapdragon X20, literally 90% of all operators could get to Gigabit LTE, which is very different than the picture without LAA, where only about 16% of all operators on licensed spectrum could get to gigabit, he said.