AT&T says it could deliver mobile commercial 5G services to consumers as soon as late 2018. Previously, the operator had indicated that commercial 5G services would not be ready until late 2019 or even 2020.
In a blog post, AT&T’s CTO and President of AT&T Labs Andre Fuetsch praised the 3GPP for fast-tracking the non-standalone 5G New Radio (NR) specification to December 2017 instead of March 2018. This acceleration, Fuetsch said, means that key components of the 5G standards, like chipset development, can be completed months ahead of the full release of the 3GPP Release 15 5G standard.
He added that the December 2017 specification will give vendors and the entire ecosystem “the first complete picture of a holistic 5G system, enabling hardware, chipset, and device manufacturers to start their development earlier.”
Competition Heats Up
AT&T’s acceleration of its 5G timeline is notable considering Verizon recently accelerated its commercial launch of fixed 5G to year-end 2018. However, Verizon’s 5G deployment will not be based upon the 3GPP standard. Last summer Verizon released its 5G specs to potential vendors that are based upon the work of the 5G Tech Forum. Verizon formed the group along with vendors Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, and Apple. That group’s goal was to collaborate on some early 5G specifications and contribute those to the 3GPP.
At Mobile World Congress 2017 earlier this month, Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s vice president of technology planning, told SDxCentral that if the company’s friendly user trials are successful, Verizon could have commercial equipment deployed and live by year-end 2018.
In his post, Fuetsch appears to make a dig at carriers like Verizon that launch non-standard gear. “This leaves customers with potentially obsolete phones and gear. We don’t see how that approach benefits customers,” he said.
For its part, Verizon has said that its pre-standard 5G spec will not lead to fragmentation. The company has insisted that its partners are involved in the 3GPP standards body and will contribute to the official spec.
Standalone vs. Non-standalone
Fuetsch said that AT&T supports both non-standalone and standalone 5G but the company will initially deploy non-standalone 5G NR and evolve to standalone 5G as part of its Network 3.0 Indigo initiative that it announced earlier this year.
Fuetsch explained that the non-standalone 5G NR standard means that 5G radios will ride on the existing LTE network core but provide advanced features like faster speeds and lower latency. Standalone 5G, meanwhile, uses a new network core that is separate from the LTE network but can work with LTE thanks to added capabilities such as network functions virtualization (NFV), software-defined networking (SDN), and network slicing.
Standalone 5G will be included in the Release 15 standard that the 3GPP will complete in June 2018. Release 15 will also include support for 5G enhanced mobile broadband use cases. Release 16, which is expected to be complete in late 2019, will cover remaining 5G use cases and requirements.
In a recent research note from Michael Thelander of Signals Research, who attended the 3GPP meeting last week in Croatia, he said that the December 2017 release of the non-standalone 5G NR standard will provide enough details on the hardware so that both non-standard NR and standalone NR will meet the Release 15 completion date of June 2018.