AT&T is officially launching its new 5G Evolution in Indianapolis, Indiana, and some parts of Austin, Texas. The new service combines a number of different LTE technologies that bring the standard up to about twice the normal speed of AT&T's network. Some of these include three-channel carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4×4 MIMO. The intention is to lay the groundwork for a proper 5G rollout, once the 3GPP finishes defining the standard. AT&T wants to roll out 5G Evolution in at least 20 metropolitan areas by the end of 2017. It should be noted that only the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus are compatible wth 5G Evolution for the time being, but more devices will gain compatibility in the future.
Should all go as planned with AT&T's network enhancements and the 3GPP's work on the 5G standard, the carrier hopes to begin rolling out true 5G before the end of 2018. AT&T plans on expanding 5G Evolution with newer technologies, such as 4-channel carrier aggregation and LTE License Assisted Access as the rollout goes into more and more areas. While many of the enhancements contained in the 5G Evolution plan are already part of the standard LTE networks of other carriers, AT&T is putting these technologies together in the course of a single rollout, with the intention to put out ultra-fast LTE nationwide before a proper 5G rollout begins.
While the standard is far from finished at the moment, the current incarnation of the 5G standard calls for both low and high frequency spectrum to be used, with a focus on small cells. AT&T's 5G Evolution is similar in function to the 4.9G being created and pushed out for clients by Nokia; both are an interim network standard meant to push current LTE technology to its absolute limit and deliver the best possible experience to consumers, while laying the groundwork for 5G. Essentially, should any carrier achieve full 4.9G coverage, switching that over to 5G coverage will be far easier than using a current LTE network as a baseline. This is because much of the hardware and optimization that will go into 5G, according to current standards, is essentially upgraded LTE equipment with software tweaks.