Just as it seems like flagship phone features and performance have pretty much plateaued and spec bumps keep shrinking, AT&T says it will have a really good reason for bandwidth-hungry users to pick up new handsets: next-generation 5G connectivity. The company says its trials of 5G millimeter-wave equipment in Waco, TX, Kalamazoo, MI, and South Bend, IN have shown speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps and latency all the way down in the nine- to 12-ms range.
AT&T president of Technology & Operations Melissa Arnoldi says the company started testing 5G equipment two years ago. Field trials started in in Austin, TX and later expanded to the three smaller cities mentioned above late in 2017. The trial in Waco provided 5G mmWave service to a retail store about 500 ft (152 m) from a cellular tower. Arnoldi says the trial showed throughput as high as 1.2 Gbps and 9-12 ms latency on a 400 MHz-wide channel while supporting "hundreds" of simultaneous connected users. AT&T's 5G network operates in the 15 GHz and 28 GHz bands, meaning the signal waves are in the range of 20 to 10.7 mm.
Furthermore, the company says testing in Kalamazoo showed that the 5G signal had "no impact" from rain, snow, or other weather events. Testers observed speeds as high as 900 Mbps at a range of 900 feet (274 m) away from a cell tower. Arnoldi said real-world mmWave penetration through glass, foliage, and walls was better than anticipated, too. The tests in South Bend showed gigabit speeds in line-of-sight and "some" non-line-of-sight scenarios on a full end-to-end 5G deployment.
AT&T's announcement specifically mentions potential improvements to video playback on next-generation network, but potential applications of this technology could be far more far-reaching. We think some types of mobile games and augmented reality streaming are a couple of applications that might leap from an unplayable mess to something a lot more pleasant if AT&T's performance promises ring true.
Arnoldi claims AT&T will be the first US carrier to launch standards-based 5G mobile broadband service later this year. She goes on to say the company will likewise be the first to offer 5G-capable hardware to its customers, though it's not clear if she was referring to smartphones, 5G Wi-Fi hotspot devices, or something else. Previous reports from Qualcomm suggest that a 5G "puck" device with a Snapdragon X50 modem will be the first 5G hardware on the market.