When 5G rolls out in earnest around the end of the decade, U.S. wireless carriers will be waiting at the front of the technology curve to accept the throngs of consumers ready to embrace an era of communication that will see speeds 10 to 100 times faster than what's currently available. AT&T has joined Verizon in stepping in front of that curve.
There's a framework for its definition, but coalitions of telecom companies and regulators are still working on the specifics of what 5G exactly is so that it can be properly standardized. That's much of the reason companies such as AT&T and Verizon are starting work now.
Verizon started exploring 5G last year, and now AT&T has announced that it plans to start developing 4G's successor during Q2 of this year.
AT&T will collaborate with Intel and Ericsson on lab testing and then move to a field test in Austin, Texas, where it hopes to have fixed points that deliver 5G before 2016 comes to a close.
The company's field trials will be critical in "rapid and wide-scale adoption" of the technology, stated Arun Bansal, Ericsson's senior vice president and head of Business Unit Radio.
"5G will impact the entire mobile network - from devices to access and core to cloud - and open up exciting new IoT applications for consumers and industry, so Ericsson is enabling AT&T to move beyond 5G lab tests to gain a greater understanding of 5G's potential in their own network environments and markets," Bansal says.
What Is 5G?
It's whatever comes after 4G - that's the simple answer. Countries have developed their own definitions of 5G, but there has yet to be any global consensus on what it means.
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology and there are several promising concepts for what methods should, or will, constitute it.
One of the most promising methods of delivering 5G wireless is a combination of MIMO and carrier aggregation. MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) moderates traffic to ensure that data flows efficiently, while carrier aggregation combines several streams of data between endpoints: servers and mobile devices.
The results of the combination of technologies are ultra-low latency connections and average speeds that are 50 times faster than the fastest 4G LTE deployments currently available.
What Can We Do With 5G?
5G will deliver on the promise of superfast speeds, allowing consumers and businesses to move deeper into the cloud.
When a connection to a cloud account with infinite space is just as fast as the transfer speeds of a local storage, which is finite, it's not much of a decision to decide where to store data. And with local storage much less of a priority, 5G devices will be significantly slimmer than their predecessors.
There are also the raw download speeds that should connect more people to 4K content and other massive data types.
While the aforementioned benefits of 5G may seem the most tangible, it also promises to bring to reality some technologies that still seem to be a decade or more away in many consumers' minds.
5G will deliver the super-low latency needed to power virtual reality experiences, self-driving cars, smarter city grids, robotics and more. Latency, the time it takes between a query and a response, will be critical to each of the aforementioned technologies.
Without the ultra-low latency 5G promises, self-driving cars and robots may not be able to make split-second decisions based on new information. Just imagine timber falling off a truck in front of a self-driving car.
"These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers," John Donovan, chief strategy officer and Group President, AT&T Technology and Operations. "5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services."