5G Tracker: AT&T Promises Mobile 5G; Verizon Teases Fixed Wireless

Companies are eager to push forward with their plans following the release of the first 5G specification

3 min read
A man using a mobile phone walks past an AT&T store in New York.
Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

It’s a new year, and here at IEEE Spectrum, we’re beginning a new run of 5G coverage. Each week, we’ll round up the latest 5G news and developments from the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

For those who haven’t been following closely, 5G is having a bit of a moment. In December, the standards group 3GPP issued the first 5G specification in Release 15, which describes Non-Standalone 5G New Radio. This was a big deal for the telecommunications industry, which has been working on the specification for years, and pushed for it to be finished as fast as possible (too fast, some have said).

5G NR, as it’s called, is not one technology but a mishmash of wireless advances that will build on existing LTE networks in early phases before launching in full 5G mode. For example, LTE networks use a signal modulation scheme known as orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) to etch data onto a radio-frequency wave. The new specification takes this familiar technology and turns it up a notch, giving carriers more flexibility to space information more tightly or loosely to suit their needs.

5G NR is designed for a particular set of outcomes, including enhanced mobile broadband (more data for your smartphone), and ultrareliable low latency communications (for the peace of mind you’d need to operate a robotic surgery over a wireless network).

Following that exciting announcement (which is about as exciting as they get from 3GPP), the first week of 2018 kicked off with plenty of 5G news coming just before CES 2018.

Verizon Teases Commercial Fixed Wireless for Sacramento

Verizon said it will roll out commercial service over 5G fixed wireless networks (which it tested throughout 2017) in Sacramento, Calif., by the end of 2018. It also tapped Samsung as its equipment provider of choice for that rollout. Verizon’s over-the-air Internet service, which is based on high-frequency millimeter waves, doesn’t require a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver, which was surely a relief to them. Samsung says a signal from a single radio can reach as high as the 19th floor of a building.

AT&T Promises Mobile 5G in 2018

AT&T announced it would have 5G ready for mobile phones in a dozen U.S. markets this year. And they couldn’t help but add that they expect to be the first U.S. carrier to deploy it. That’s a big deal, because AT&T and Verizon have so far played it safe with fixed wireless networks, on which signals travel between two stationary points. Getting signals to follow people around is much harder. AT&T tipped its hat to the standards body 3GPP for issuing the first 5G New Radio specification in December 2017, which manufacturers can now use to develop hardware and devices.

Huawei Touts Core Network Test with China Mobile

Huawei is making its move on China Mobile and its 880 million wireless customers. The companies announced “outstanding performance” in a test of Huawei’s 5G core network (but didn’t get much more specific than that). The core is the chunk of equipment and software that routes data, directs calls, and connects to other networks. Huawei’s version incorporates network slicing, a technique that lets an operator designate a specific bandwidth or latency for a particular purpose. Clearly pleased with itself, Huawei said its core could “serve as a solid foundation for the future large-scale commercial use of 5G.”

If you have 5G news you’d like to share from the lab or the field, or 5G concepts you’re curious about and would like to see covered here, send a note to a.nordrum@ieee.org.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on 14 January 2018 to clarify that 3GPP released a specification, not a standard.

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The Cellular Industry’s Clash Over the Movement to Remake Networks

The wireless industry is divided on Open RAN’s goal to make network components interoperable

13 min read
Photo: George Frey/AFP/Getty Images
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We've all been told that 5G wireless is going to deliver amazing capabilities and services. But it won't come cheap. When all is said and done, 5G will cost almost US $1 trillion to deploy over the next half decade. That enormous expense will be borne mostly by network operators, companies like AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and dozens more around the world that provide cellular service to their customers. Facing such an immense cost, these operators asked a very reasonable question: How can we make this cheaper and more flexible?

Their answer: Make it possible to mix and match network components from different companies, with the goal of fostering more competition and driving down prices. At the same time, they sparked a schism within the industry over how wireless networks should be built. Their opponents—and sometimes begrudging partners—are the handful of telecom-equipment vendors capable of providing the hardware the network operators have been buying and deploying for years.

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