at&tAT&T mobile 5G plans will include launch of the next generation mobile broadband service in 12 markets by late 2018, the carrier announced today. The announcement marks an acceleration in the launch of mobile 5G services, which just a few months ago wasn’t expected until 2020.

Early 5G use cases have focused on fixed wireless access, as an alternative to FTTP and cable broadband service. Verizon is moving quickly on that front, with plans to launch in 3 to 5 markets in the second half of 2018. AT&T is aiming to take 5G a step further in a similar time frame, that is, if the claims of today’s announcement ring true later this year.

I suspect AT&T engineers and their vendor partners will have some long nights and weekends ahead of themselves this year, as AT&T’s technology teams work feverishly to meet the commitment their marketing group just created for them.

“5G will change the way we live, work and enjoy entertainment,” said Melissa Arnoldi, president, AT&T Technology and Operations in a statement.  “We’re moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year and start unlocking the future of connectivity for consumers and businesses.”

These accelerated AT&T mobile 5G plans are possible thanks to quicker approval of 3GPP 5G NR specifications, which were approved last month. All national U.S. carriers, and a host of international ones have been testing 5G services for some time now, including significant testing in the mmWave bands.

AT&T Mobile 5G Plans
AT&T did not specify which spectrum bands or specific technology or vendors it intends to use for this mobile 5G play.  “We’re confident this latest standards milestone will allow us to bring 5G to market faster without compromising its long-term vision,” AT&T outlines in the statement.

AT&T (and others) have also contributed to some confusion regarding 5G. Some carriers, AT&T included, have already begun using the term 5G in product marketing announcements. AT&T recently began marketing 5G Evolution services, which they referenced in today’s mobile 5G statement, but the two are not synonymous. AT&T 5G Evolution doesn’t rely on 5G standards, but enhances 4G LTE networks to deliver ‘5G’ type performance.

“While we’re rolling out mobile 5G in 2018, we also plan to continue to enhance our network with 5G Evolution technology in hundreds of additional metro areas, “ the statement outlines. “We will give you more options to access our latest wireless network offers by making additional 5G Evolution capable devices available throughout the year.”

Despite this 5G activity, there are significant questions regarding a defined 5G business case, particularly outside of North America. C-Level executives from major carriers outside of the U.S. shared some of these concerns at a recent Huawei conference, suggesting the 5G hype may have gotten ahead of the 5G reality.

Today’s announcement is strategically placed a few days ahead of the upcoming CES show in Las Vegas, scheduled to start January 9. A flurry of 5G related announcements are expected. AT&T wants to get ahead of that flurry, just as they appear to want to get ahead in the mobile 5G race.

Image courtesy of flickr user Mike Mozart.

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