AT&T, along with systems provider NI, has collaborated on what could be the most accurate and fastest 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) channel characterization tool. Internally named as "Porcupine", this tool allows for real-time monitoring of 5G signals, with the tool measuring the angle of arrival within 150 milliseconds. AT&T's channel characterization tool, which is based on NI's mmWave transceiver system, is considerably faster than other cellular solutions, which take 15 minutes to completely measure the angle of arrival. The quicker measurement by AT&T's channel characterization system allows for less time-consuming experimentation, as repeating measurements and adjusting equipment are no longer necessary. In addition, this tool, which is proprietary to AT&T, also allows for measuring vehicular channels of 5G signals through drive testing, which is critical for the development of infrastructure that will be servicing new use cases like connected vehicles and self-driving cars.
Channel characterization tools are used to gather channel measurements, which shows how 5G signals are affected by objects like trees, people, and buildings. The information gathered from channel measurements can then be used to model and design wireless network infrastructure needed for 5G, which helps improve the service of the wireless carriers through identifying locations where network equipment can be optimally placed. By appropriately placing network equipment, latency can be reduced and more areas can be serviced with 5G as obstructions are taken into consideration in infrastructure deployment.
Testing of 5G technology is in full swing across the United States as wireless carriers deploy their testing setups in numerous locations, with AT&T playing a major role in the testing and future commercialization. AT&T has stated they wanted to commercialize their 5G service as early as 2018, with the wireless carrier contributing substantially to the development of the 5G standard. The wireless carrier has done preliminary testing of its 5G network in Austin, Texas, as part of its recently announced "Network 3.o Indigo" initiative. At this point, AT&T is currently testing a 5G "lite" network, which offers maximum data speeds of up to 400 Mbps, with a further upgrade to 1 Gbps maximum data speeds as the carrier further densifies its network. Still, AT&T is cautious about deploying its 5G network on a large scale basis at this point, as 5G standards are yet to be completely set. Doing massive deployment at this time runs the risk of backtracking its implementation if the network does not comply with 5G standards, which may result in huge losses on AT&T's part.