First in the U.S. to Mobile 5G – What’s Next? Defining AT&T’s Network Path in 2019 and Beyond

AT&T* is the first U.S. carrier to introduce a standards-based, mobile 5G network and device. We’re the tip of the spear, driving the 3GPP standards body and leading the world on how 5G will be deployed.

“We delivered on one of the most ambitious goals in our industry by being the first in the U.S. with live commercial mobile 5G,” said Jeff McElfresh, president, AT&T Technology Operations. “2018 was a year of rapid R&D, testing and deployment as our people rolled out 5G within months of the final 3GPP standard being set—going from an 18 month cycle to same-year deployment. And now we’re going to begin making this 5G vision come to life further for businesses and consumers.”   

Our mobile 5G network is starting to roll out at the perfect time. Data traffic on our mobile network has grown more than 470,000% since 2007 with video making up half of our mobile data traffic. By 2022, we estimate video could make up more than 75% of AT&T’s mobile traffic driven by growth in 4K video, autonomous cars, drones, VR/AR and mobile gaming. Combine this with the more than 242 petabytes of data currently crossing our total network on an average business day.

In early 2020, we expect to have a nationwide mobile 5G footprint using our lower band spectrum (sub-6 GHz). We’ll also continue offering 5G+ coverage over millimeter wave spectrum.

Bringing 5G to Life: 5G Evolution, Millimeter Wave and Sub-6 GHz

We are leading in 5G, and our engineers, developers, designers and installers are driving innovation across our network and the entire wireless industry. To make standards-based mobile 5G a reality in 2018, we took what was typically an 18-month cycle from the time standards were finalized to launching and whittled it down to 6 months after the June standards were agreed upon by 3GPP. This accelerated timeline is giving us early learnings that will be implemented in our own 5G network and push the industry forward.

By getting to customers first in our 12-market introduction, we’re learning invaluable mobile 5G experience insights and iterating quickly. This type of experience can’t be replicated in a lab environment. Month over month, our 5G network will continue to improve upon itself as we drive the ecosystem to rapidly mature and evolve its 5G radios, devices, and chips.

Last year, we were named the Nation’s Best Network according to America’s biggest test. We’re upgrading our LTE networks and growing the foundation for our mobile 5G launch with the expansion of 5G Evolution in 400+ markets. 5G Evolution technologies enable a peak theoretical wireless speed of at least 400Mbps for capable devices.1

In addition, we exceeded our promise to bring LTE-LAA to two dozen markets, launching the technology in parts of 55 cities. With LTE-LAA, the network technologies have a peak theoretical wireless speed for capable devices of 1 gigabit per second.

We’ll grow our 5G+ network over millimeter wave spectrum and offer nationwide 5G coverage with our lower band spectrum (sub-6 Ghz). We plan to begin deploying that lower band spectrum in the second half of this year and plan to have nationwide coverage available in early 2020.

So far, we’ve confirmed plans for three 5G devices for 2019. In addition to the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, we’re working with Samsung to offer two Samsung smartphones this year.

And while 5G may be the hot topic, here’s a peek behind the curtain at what our network teams accomplished in 2018 and are building in the years to come.

Expanded Magic Leap Agreement

Today, we expanded our previously announced agreement with Magic Leap to now include business solutions in 2019. Our initial focus areas are on manufacturing, retail and healthcare. AT&T will provide connectivity over AT&T’s 5G network for augmented reality, mixed reality and spatial computing applications. Some potential examples include:

  • Manufacturing – To enable collaborative, computer aided design. For example, engineers can walk into a 3D engine, test it and make changes to the design all without having a physical engine in front of them.
  • Retail – To enhance the buying experience with the ability to “try on” clothes or “see” furniture placement in your home. For brick and mortar, this scenario brings together the best of the virtual and physical world, allowing consumers to recreate the in-store experience from the comfort of their home.
  • Healthcare – To allow for applications like collaborative diagnostics, remote medical assessments, 3D imaging and training. Imagine being able to speak to a doctor or nurse as if you were both sitting in the exam room together. Or, giving medical students the ability to “practice” complex procedures before operating on a patient.

Internet of Things (IoT) & Smart Cities

Following our nationwide deployment of LTE-M in 2017, AT&T connects more IoT devices than any other provider in North America. We plan to launch Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) in the U.S. in the coming months and in Mexico by the end of 2019.

Combined with our IoT technology and public-private partnerships such as our agreements with the cities of San Jose and Los Angeles, Calif., for the deployments of small cells, we’re working to make future 5G deployments a reality across America.

FirstNet Progress

We already cover over 40% of our FirstNet network coverage targets in 2018. And we increased the LTE coverage area of the AT&T network and the FirstNet public safety communications platform by more than 50,000 square miles nationwide, covering an additional 1 million individuals.

The added LTE coverage is a result of our ongoing indoor and outdoor network build, as well as our deployment of Band 14 spectrum in 500+ markets. That’s a significant benefit for the more than 425,000 connections spanning 5,250+ public safety agencies currently using FirstNet.

By the end of this year, we expect our network capacity to increase by 50% since 2017 – providing enhanced connectivity for consumers and first responders in urban and rural areas nationwide.

Climbing a tower to deploy FirstNet technologies also allows us to simultaneously put up 5G Evolution and 5G software upgradable mobile technologies as well. 

Tower Build Momentum

AT&T is focused on creating a diverse community of suppliers and tower companies that embrace a sustainable business model. In December 2018, we noted our momentum with Tillman Infrastructure highlighting the hundreds of tower builds completed and the hundreds more underway nationwide. We’re also working with alternative tower builders CitySwitch, Uniti, and others.

Fiber for Consumers and Businesses

We offer our ultra-fast low-latency internet service powered by AT&T Fiber to more than 11 million locations across 84 metros nationwide, and plan to reach 14 million locations by mid-year.

We’re also the largest U.S.-based provider of fiber for business services. AT&T now enables nearly 2.2 million U.S. business customer locations with high-speed fiber connections by serving nearly 500,000 U.S. business buildings lit with fiber from AT&T.

Fixed Wireless Internet

By the end of 2018, we offered high-speed internet access to over 660,000 locations across 18 states in mostly rural areas through technologies like Fixed Wireless Internet, as part of the FCC Connect America Fund. In 2019, we plan to reach over 880,000 locations and 1.1 million locations by the end of 2020 in those 18 states.

Software at the Core of Our Network

We’ve been on the most aggressive software path in the telecommunications industry for some time, which includes plans to virtualize and software-control 75% of our core network functions by 2020. In 2018, we reached the 65% mark as planned, taking advantage of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) that we co-founded in 2017.

This initiative is making it faster and more cost effective to deploy technologies, such as our continued mobile 5G expansion. For example, the routers in our cell towers have traditionally been purchased as specialized, self-contained units from a small handful of vendors. In 2018, we decided to design our own cell site routers and released those hardware specs as open blueprints so any hardware maker can build them for us. And, we’re running our own open source software on those routers. In 2019, we plan to deploy thousands of these “white box” routers on towers across our network.

This year is about the power of open source in a 5G world. Yesterday we announced plans to co-develop a software platform to enable the creation of open source software under the Linux Foundation. The goal is to accelerate the deployment of open source software for the network. 

Ongoing R&D Explorations

Finally, while we continue to build out our 5G network, AT&T Labs and AT&T Foundry continue to explore the unforeseen possibilities in a future 5G world and beyond. Examples include:

  • Edge Computing: Based on our learnings from our first year within our edge computing test zone located at our AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto, Calif., we’re now exploring ways we can enhance mobile immersive media experiences and test future 5G applications on the edge of our network, like autonomous vehicles.

In that vein, we launched Akraino Edge Stack via the Linux Foundation earlier this year. Akraino is an open source software stack that supports high-availability cloud services optimized for edge computing systems and applications. The project has moved from formation into execution and has 18 members and growing. We think there’s a lot more to come.

  • Business & 5G: We also opened up a space within our AT&T Foundry in Plano dedicated to prototyping innovative solutions for our customers in manufacturing, retail, finance and the public sector. We plan to bring 5G to this facility in early 2019, which will allow us to co-create 5G solutions with our customers and explore the future of enterprise innovation over 5G. And our Plano facility will work closely with our healthcare-focused AT&T Foundry in Houston.

Connecting the world is the heart of what we do as a company. It’s a 140-plus year legacy that’s shaped how we all live, work and play. Today more than ever, driving network innovation requires deep technology expertise across a range of disciplines. Please visit our Technology sitefor more about the accomplishments of the women and men at AT&T Communications. 

1. Actual speeds are lower and will vary.  See http://about.att.com/sites/broadband/performance for more information on wireless speeds 

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