AT&T targets 750 Mbps cells using LTE Advanced, this year

AT&T has been pushing the idea that a version of LTE Advanced, using a lot of carrier aggregation should be called 5G Evolution and said this week it has installed it in parts of Indianapolis, more than doubling data speeds there.

While there are arguments about nomenclature, it shows very clearly its step by step, pigeon steps towards a faster network – it will put 5G Evolution into 20 metro areas in 2017. It has already launched it in Austin, Texas, and will add Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco.

In each case this is mostly about carrier aggregation, using 3 separate extra carriers – oddments of spectrum that can be used for the download path. The important thing about this is that 5G New Radios won’t be available harmonized on a handset for quite a few years, so putting the 5G name onto something that involves a handset was seen to be important.

The only real 5G ingredient is putting in lots of small cells using C-RAN, which it’s doing here in Indianapolis, along with the launch of a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS). It is also using other LTE Advanced technologies including 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and as we said, 3-way carrier aggregation.
All of this requires a Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ phone today, with others on the way. At the end of the year it will add LTE-License Assisted Access and 4-way carrier aggregation in some of these 5G Evolution metros and talks about speeds up to 750 Mbps. Even shared among multiple devices inside a small cell, that’s likely to be a serious step change in handset experienced speed, once it arrives. It should feel like 100 Mbps for most users.

Then in late 2018 AT&T will introducing that fixed wireless networks it has promised based on the LTE extension for 5G, which it accelerated through the 3GPP standards process earlier this year. But those are supposed to form the basis of a comeback in fixed line broadband, and will go up to and beyond 1 Gbps, introduced in parallel with its MDU attack using in both twisted pair and Coax, which will herald a 1 Gbps era for non-rural homes. All of these faster speeds will be important in the aim to carry more and more video, which AT&T hopes it will own with DirecTV Now and some future OTT variants and all the Time Warner assets that it will land if that merger goes through.