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AT&T Details 5G Evolution Plans AT CES 2017, Announcing 5G Video Trial With DirecTV Now

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AT&T is betting big on 5G and after reaching speeds of up to 14 gigabits per second (Gbps) in lab trials, it plans to conduct a 5G video trial with DirecTV Now.

The company announced that it plans to start testing the high-speed 5G network with DirecTV Now in Austin, Texas, in the first half of this year. The trial will likely mark not only a wireless broadband test, but also a net neutrality one.

AT&T 5G Video Trial With DirecTV Now

Customers who will be part of AT&T's 5G video trial in Austin will be able to stream DirecTV Now on a range of devices over fixed 5G connections. According to AT&T, the trial aims to determine how "wireless millimeter wave technology," also referred to as mmWave, fares when dealing with heavy video traffic.

AT&T has already started conducting 5G tests in Austin, but the upcoming trial with DirecTV Now is designed to push the technology harder by placing a heavier strain on the network, depending on how many participants will be included in the trial.

At CES 2017, AT&T announced that it plans to use experimental airwaves to test 5G services as a potentially more affordable method compared to fiber-optic cable for high-capacity connections. With this in mind, AT&T has now partnered with a dozen other companies including Qualcomm, Ericson and Intel.

5G Evolution

"Our 5G Evolution plans will pave the way to the next-generation of higher speeds for customers," says AT&T chief strategy officer John Donovan. "We're not waiting until the final standards are set to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G. We're executing now."

Donovan adds that in the past decade, AT&T saw a whopping increase of roughly 250,000 percent on its mobile network and most of that traffic is video. With greater speeds and enhanced network performance overall, 5G opens up great opportunities not just for video, but also for augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), smart homes, 4K streaming, autonomous vehicles and more.

Net Neutrality Concerns

AT&T data caps don't apply to DirecTV customers, who can enjoy unlimited streaming over the carrier's wireless networks. Having blazing-fast 5G speeds would be a great asset for both AT&T and its customers, but it may also test net neutrality limits.

The FCC has already expressed concerns regarding so-called zero-rating practices from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, arguing that unaffiliated third parties are denied the chance to compete on reasonable terms. With this in mind, the FCC believes that AT&T's DirecTV zero-rating could stand in violation of net neutrality rules.

Despite the FCC's concerns, however, the newly announced 5G video trial with DirecTV Now indicates that AT&T is not only confident it's not violating net neutrality rules, it also plans to take things to the next level by making its offer more attractive.

AT&T is racing with Verizon to deliver new high-speed 5G services and boost revenue, especially as it faces increased competition with its wireless and TV subscription businesses.

The 5G video trial set for the first half of this year is just a warm-up, as Donovan says he expects AT&T to deliver the first commercial point-to-point 5G service next year. Meanwhile, the first mobile 5G service should become commercially available later on, in 2019.

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