Our data networks will soon be even more crowded and congested. There was already a surge in data usage the past few years, thanks primarily to smartphones and tablets. In the upcoming years, not only will the number of devices connected to the Internet rise thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), the volume of traffic will also increase due to 4K videos and virtual reality. To prepare for all of that mess, carriers are plotting their next gen network technologies. AT&T, for its part, will be putting its eggs in the 5G basket and will start its testing phase this year.
5G, which is, of course, the next step after 4G, is one of the promised solutions to the increasing demands for data. It utilizes several technologies, including the same millimeter waves that Google and Facebook are employing for their Internet-bearing drone plans, to deliver speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G. On paper, 5G transfers data a gigabits per second instead of 4G's megabits per second and with a latency of 1 to 5 milliseconds. In short, no more buffering!
Of course, that's the theoretical maximum capabilities of 5G. To ensure that its 5G network technologies will operate at their best, AT&T will start conducting tests this year. It will begin with private lab testing in the second quarter of the year, moving to outdoor tests by summer. Then it will transition to a limited field trial of 5G in Austin before the year ends. It has partnered with Ericsson and Intel for developing 5G solutions
It might be interesting to note how AT&T's choice of network technology and partners seem to contrast that of its rival, Verizon. The latter is banking on the controversial LTE-U or LTE on Unlicensed spectrum for the future of its services and has enlisted Samsung and Qualcomm for that purpose. However, LTE-U is currently facing opposition from the Wi-Fi Alliance, including Google and Microsoft, who believe that LTE-U will wreck havok on Wi-Fi networks. The FCC hasn't made an official ruling on the matter, encouraging the two sides to settle their differences without involving federal regulations as much as possible.
That's not to say that 5G is a done deal already. While AT&T is indeed preparing for its coming, the standard, which will be defined by the 3GPP, is still two years away from being finalized. By preparing early, however, AT&T plans to be able to jump right in once that happens.