Will AT&T (T) Beat Other Carriers to 5G Launch This Year?

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In the field of communications and technology, 5G marks a revolution. All through 2016, news poured in about the launch of the 5G wireless network and commercial handsets by different wireless carriers from 2017. Notable among the carriers that are gearing up for their 5G launch this year are Verizon Communications Inc. VZ , AT&T Inc. T , Sprint Corp. S and T-Mobile US TMUS . Verizon was expected to be far ahead in its plans of deploying 5G after it became the first company in the world to issue an initial radio specification for the wireless network in Jul 2016.

Nevertheless, according to a recent report by Light Reading , AT&T seems to be leading in the 5G market leaving far behind the other three wireless carriers. Additionally, the reports state that the company officials are highly focused in the design and development of its 5G network and services, working with teams across the country in Austin, Middletown, NJ and San Ramon, CA. The officials are busy in managing various fixed-wireless and mobile technical trials in order to prepare 5G services as soon as possible.

AT&T has always been upgrading its network services and technology with the pace of time, from 2G to 3G, then 3G to HSPA+ (first 4G standard) and then to LTE. Presently, it is laying the foundation of 5G wireless network by the deploying the LTE-Advanced technologies, such as carrier aggregation. Also, this telecom company aims to become one of the first providers to offer a wireless gigabit capability to its customers.

AT&T's 5G Trials So Far

We are impressed with the efforts that AT&T has taken so far for the 5G technology trials in different places and laboratories. In the lab trials so far, AT&T boasts in achieving maximum speeds of 14 Gbps (gigabit per second) using early 5G equipment, with less than three milliseconds of latency.

In early Dec 2016, AT&T had collaborated with Ericsson ERIC to conduct its first-ever 5G technology trials using the millimeter wavelength technology in Intel Corp.'s INTC Austin office. It featured online video streaming at 4K resolution and real time camera feeds. Going forward, AT&T and Ericsson will also test 5G Voice over Inter Protocol (VoIP) services using 15 Giga-Hertz (GHz) and 28GHz spectrum bands.

In Jan 2017, AT&T further tied-up with Ericsson and Qualcomm to announce plans for testing the initial 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) 5G New Radio (NR) specification in the second half of 2017. The trio is planning to evaluate high-band frequencies for the next-generation 5G technology, which should deliver "multi-gigabit Internet service" over the air.

Such technical specifications will allow the downloading of a HD (high definition) film wirelessly to a phone. In addition, the trial will see AT&T using 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum bands, Both Qualcomm and Ericsson are providing prototype devices and base station solutions, respectively. Notably, the two spectrum bands to be commercially deployed here - 28GHz and 39GHz - have also been assigned by the U.S. telecom regulator, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for the said purpose.

Further, the carrier has been performing system and software architecture lab work in its Middletown, Atlanta and San Ramon facilities. Additionally, AT&T is testing or planning to test a number of different wireless frequencies (such as 4 GHz, 28 GHz, 39 GHz and 73 GHz) for future 5G services, which includes a 15 GHz in the initial Austin trial. These future trials will also check/test the delivery of services to both single users and multiple users over fixed-wireless and mobile connections.

Benefits of 5G

The next-generation 5G network will provide 50 times the throughput of the currently available standard 4G LTE network. Latency period of data delivery will be in single milliseconds. Further, 5G technology is designed to be more power efficient than any other standard wireless networks available now. Therefore, 5G-enabled mobile devices are likely to last longer than their 3G or 4G counterparts. Moreover, superfast 5G mobile networks will be of utmost importance for the managing exponential growth in Internet-connected devices, popularly known as Internet of Things (IoT).

Going ahead, the 5G mobile handsets are expected to be available in the market by 2020, following a broader rollout of the technology. The commercial 5G handsets will be first launched in South Korea and Japan and are likely to be very expensive.

Bottom Line

The current year is just about to complete its first month today and hence it's also too early to predict the progress of 5G. Moreover, wireless carriers will have to face numerous challenges such as lack of industry tech standards, heavy pre-standardized equipment, signal range and propagation concerns, blockage issues, and other signal interference problems, during the entire phase of trials and final launch of 5G.

Over the past three months, AT&T's stock has returned 14.39%, while the Zacks categorized Wireless National industry gained 13.07%.

AT&T currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today's Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy)stocks here.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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