AT&T is battling against claims made by T-Mobile executives that T-Mobile will be the first operator in the U.S. with a nationwide 5G footprint because it is the only operator that has a sizeable footprint of low-band spectrum.
In an interview with SDxCentral, Gordon Mansfield, AT&T’s vice president of RAN and device design, said that AT&T is not just planning to deploy 5G in the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum but will also deploy it throughout its low and mid-band spectrum as well. And the company will have a nationwide mobile 5G footprint. “We will use all our spectral assets, and we will have a wide area network of 5G,” he said, adding that “no one should assume we aren’t going to use our existing spectrum for 5G.”
Mansfield also said that contrary to some of T-Mobile’s musings, it won’t be difficult for AT&T to have 5G on its low and mid-band spectrum because much of the 4G LTE infrastructure that the company has deployed already supports 5G. “We are deploying radios in our existing network that are capable of supporting the 5G waveform,” he said, noting that the company will reveal more in the coming months.
During T-Mobile’s earnings call with investors earlier this month, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that while AT&T and Verizon may talk about having 5G available in some markets later this year, those 5G deployments won’t make a sizeable difference to the competitive nature of the wireless market for at least another year. T-Mobile is currently adding coverage in the 600 MHz spectrum that the operator said will “set the stage” for T-Mobile’s 5G network. The operator has said it will have 5G available nationwide in 2019.
First 5G Markets Revealed
AT&T also revealed the first three markets that will be outfitted with its mobile 5G service later this year. Not surprisingly, Dallas, AT&T’s headquarters city is on the list, as is Atlanta, where the company also has a large presence. The third city is Waco, Texas, where AT&T is currently conducting a 5G fixed wireless trial that incorporates the company’s FlexWare virtual network functions (VNF) platform.
AT&T said earlier this year that it plans to launch mobile 5G service in 12 markets in 2018. The 5G service will be based upon the 3GPP non-standalone 5G NR standard that was completed late last year.
Mansfield said that the 5G deployment will use 39 GHz spectrum that it acquired when it purchased FiberTower for $207 million. That acquisition closed earlier this month.
He added that the Waco, Texas, 5G test is currently using 28 GHz spectrum but will be converted to 39 GHz.
ANTS in Austin
The company also is launching a new proprietary 5G test lab in Austin, Texas, called the Advanced 5G NR Testbed System (ANTS). Mansfield said this lab is where the company will perform real-world testing before the service is rolled out to consumers. The testbed will have both an indoor and outdoor environment, and AT&T plans to recreate different scenarios so it can test all types of usage.
“The ANT system allows us to gather real-world data and look at it in the lab,” Mansfield said, noting that scenarios like the Super Bowl, are hard to replicate. “But we can capture that data and replicate it in a lab setting. We can take real-world scenarios and see how they impact the system,” he said.
AT&T said it will work with multiple vendors – both on the device and the network side — to test their equipment, and it will also be using different vendor test equipment as well. However, he added that the tests will initially be focused on network equipment and device testing, not applications.
AT&T has not yet revealed any of its 5G vendors. Mansfield said the company will share those vendors at a later date.