AT&T is causing an uproar with its announced plans to launch what it is calling “5G Evolution” in more than 20 markets by year-end. The company said 5G Evolution is currently available in Austin, Texas, which is a test location for AT&T’s 5G work and will soon be available in Indianapolis, Indiana, and several more markets including Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Nashville.
But AT&T’s description of 5G Evolution is purposely vague. And the preliminary 5G specification will not be available until year-end. So it’s pretty clear that 5G Evolution is not a standardized 5G offering.
In the press release, AT&T says 5G Evolution will provide twice the speeds of the company’s existing LTE network and will use technologies such as small cells, carrier aggregation, 4×4 multiple input multiple output (MIMO), and 256 QAM. The service will be coupled with Samsung Galaxy 8 and Galaxy S8 devices, which are not standardized 5G devices.
Those limited details make 5G Evolution sound a lot like Gigabit LTE, which is a service that T-Mobile US demonstrated with Ericsson at Mobile World Congress in early March. In fact, it appears that AT&T may have beat T-Mobile to the punch by marketing Gigabit LTE as 5G Evolution.
At Mobile World Congress, Neville Ray, CTO of T-Mobile US told a small group of reporters that if the company could deliver 1 Gb/s speeds on LTE instead of 5G, the consumer may not know the difference between the two. “There’s a lot of chatter about 5G at 1 Gb/s speeds. If you can deliver that on LTE, what’s the difference? What’s the difference to the consumer?” Ray said. “I think in the 5G space there will be a lot of marketing wars.”
Interestingly, on AT&T’s earnings call with investors that was held the same day the company announced its 5G Evolution, executives did not mention the offering. In fact, when asked about the company’s time frame for deploying 5G, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that because of the standards roadmap, the company would not launch 5G until 2018, and it will likely not be available in scale until devices and equipment are ready in 2019 or 2020.
Spectrum Deep Dive
But Stephenson did go into great detail about the company’s spectrum holdings and how the spectrum will set the stage for the company’s 5G network deployment.
Stephenson said the company has 60 MHz of fallow spectrum in the low and mid-band spectrum that it has accumulated from auctions, acquisitions, and winning a 25-year contract to build and operate the FirstNet nationwide public safety network. Plus, the company has 39 GHz millimeter (mmWave) band spectrum and 24 GHz band spectrum that it acquired from FiberTower that equals a nationwide footprint. And it may have more mmWave spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz range if it is successful in its acquisition of Straight Path.
Stephenson acknowledged that there is a competitive offer for Straight Path and said the company is deciding whether or not to respond to that bid with a higher offer. It has just five days to make that decision.
“Our goal is to put 1-Gig speeds in our customers’ hands, no matter where they are on our network,” Stephenson said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the earnings call.