News Feature | September 11, 2018

The Week In 5G: 9/11/2018 – AT&T Makes First Wireless Standards-Compliant 5G mmWave Connection, Verizon Claims First OtA Data Transmission On Commercial 5G NR Network

By Jof Enriquez
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq

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This week sees another salvo of "5G firsts" and rollouts from competing wireless carriers in the United States.

At the AT&T Spark innovation event in San Francisco, the company announced that it had completed the world’s first wireless 5G data transfer over millimeter wave using standards-based, production equipment with a mobile form factor device. For the test held in Waco, Texas, AT&T engineers used a smartphone with integrated Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem and RF subsystem and Ericsson 5G-NR capable radios to connect to AT&T's virtual 3X standards compliant system.

Qualcomm and Ericsson completed recently a 3GPP Rel-15 spec compliant lab data call using Qualcomm's mobile test device and Ericsson's commercial 5G NR radio AIR 5331 and baseband products. Related, this week's AT&T connection brings the telco closer to being ready to work with 5G mobile devices that will start to become available early next year, according to the company.

"We have completed a connection between that test device and the production network we're building," said Gordon Mansfield, AT&T's vice president of converged access and devices, reported CNET.

During the same event, AT&T also announced the rollout of mobile 5G in five US cities: Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, and San Antonio in addition to previously announced markets: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, and Waco.

Not to be outdone, Verizon announced this week that it successfully made the first over-the-air, end-to-end data transmission on a commercial 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) network in Washington, DC. The signal was transmitted over commercially deployed Nokia radio equipment and Verizon’s millimeter wave spectrum and 5G network core to a Nokia test van parked in downtown Washington.

It is the latest in a string of 5G technology tests made by Verizon and Nokia. In August, the two companies claimed the first successful transmission of a 3GPP NR 5G signal to a receiver situated in a moving vehicle. In June, they completed a series of outdoor data sessions over the 5G NR standard, and the successful multi-carrier aggregation to boost those signals into Gbps range — all industry firsts, Verizon claims in a press release.

“The cadence and frequency of these significant milestone achievements from Verizon and Nokia show just how quickly we’re taking the promise of 5G technology from the lab to the field and to the marketplace where our customers will ultimately use this revolutionary technology,” said Bill Stone, VP of Technology Development and Planning for Verizon. “We said Verizon will be first to 5G, and our latest milestone moves us closer to fulfilling that promise.”

Verizon says it is on track to beat all other major US carriers in rolling out the first 5G residential broadband service in four cities — Los Angeles, Sacramento, Houston and Indianapolis — before the end of 2018.

Wireless carriers are expected to conduct more trials in the next several months, as well as tweak their 5G networks to comply with the final Release 15 standards for 5G, which will be set this week in a 3GPP plenary meeting in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Telstra, which is hosting the event, claims to have its 5G network already up and running using 13 mobile towers in the Gold Coast, one in Toowoomba, and one in Brisbane, with 200 more to go live by year’s end.

"Initially by having the 5G network ready, what that enables us to do is to trial and test the early versions of the handsets and dongles and mobile hotspots and tablets, and the manufacturers come through and test them outside of the lab environment and in a commercial environment," Telstra CEO Andy Penn told ZDNet.

Meanwhile, subscribers of South Korea's three major mobile operators — SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus — will have to wait until March 2019 to begin using 5G services. The three telcos have an agreement in place to share deployment costs and to launch 5G services nationwide simultaneously, according to RCR Wireless. The three companies are now in the last phase of testing 5G network equipment from suppliers Samsung, Nokia, and Huawei, and they are expected to announce their choices this month.

Claims to "5G firsts" will continue to be made until 5G deployments are in full swing next year, supported by finalized 5G NR standards, spectrum auctions, and relaxed regulatory policies. Still, there are impediments to 5G deployment, like continued opposition from a few communities and local authorities against 5G.

For instance, the Bay Area city of Mill Valley, located just a few miles north of San Francisco, this week enacted an ordinance to block the installation of small cells in the city's residential areas over cancer concerns, reported TechCrunch. It's the latest community in the US to exercise local legislative powers to thwart the deployment of 5G. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai contends that such ordinances could violate the federal Communications Act.

Meanwhile, UK Councils this week halted the rollout of operator BT's 5G-enabled kiosks after police discovered that drug dealers are using the kiosks' free 30-second calls to conduct transactions. The Inquirer reported that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Bristol City Council, Liverpool, and seven other London boroughs separately have either blocked future deployments, or are working with BT to address the issues, which the carrier describes as "isolated incidents." BT has installed around 200 of their InLink kiosks in 20 cities across the UK, and plans to put up 1,000 units in total.