AT&T means business with a 5G trial at Intel

The carrier believes its month-long test will be the first for a business in the U.S.

5G and its multi-gigabit cellular speeds probably won’t hit the market until 2020, but one corporate customer of AT&T is about to taste what it may be like.

AT&T is launching its first customer trial of 5G technologies – the first 5G trial for any business user in the U.S., the carrier believes. But this is no average customer that happened to draw a golden ticket. The trial will take place at an Intel facility in Austin, Texas. It will last about a month, use just one cell site, and cover an area with a radius of approximately 300 meters, AT&T said.

Intel has been aggressively researching technologies for 5G client and network equipment. It’s also notable that the Silicon Valley chip giant is one of the main counterweights to Qualcomm when it comes to supplying the guts of smartphones. The mobile device industry, even including a Goliath like Apple, likes competitors to keep the big players honest.

At Intel, AT&T and network equipment vendor Ericsson want to demonstrate how 5G could speed up business applications like VPNs (virtual private networks) and unified communications, as well as 4K video and regular Internet access. They expect to see speeds that rival those of cable broadband.

AT&T and Ericsson will be testing millimeter-wave wireless, one of the main concepts expected to be part of 5G. These systems can take advantage of wide bands of available frequencies, and new techniques and antenna designs are helping millimeter-wave signals go beyond their traditionally short ranges.

The result should be very high speeds. Some of the small trials that already took place this year showed speeds like 4Gbps (bits per second) for live 4K video streams on Sprint at a soccer game and even 48Gbps on super-high 70GHz frequencies at Japan’s NTT DoCoMo. AT&T, remaining conservative, said the upcoming trial will offer more than 1Gbps, which may be more realistic for multiple people sharing the network at Intel.

The trial will test transmissions in the two bands: 28GHz, one of the frequency ranges that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission opened up for mobile service earlier this year, and 15GHz, another promising band that Sprint used for its 4Gbps test.

High speed is just one of the benefits 5G is expected to bring. It’s also being designed for low latency, for things like fast-reacting autonomous cars, and for connecting to many more tiny devices at low speed. The 5G specification is scheduled for completion in 2019, with commercial deployments starting in 2020.

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Stephen Lawson

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