AT&T will utilize non-standalone 5G in its initial implementation of the cellular standard, according to the carrier's SVP for wireless network architecture, Marachel Knight. The non-standalone version of 5G employs the existing radio and packet core equipment used for LTE networks while incorporating a new 5G carrier, allowing for earlier large-scale testing and deployment. The carrier will eventually transition to a standalone 5G network, which utilizes the new core network architecture, but Knight did not provide any time frame on when this transition will occur.
Knight also mentioned that the company aims to reduce latency in select areas by replacing traditional, centrally-managed networks with an implementation of the edge computing model. Edge computing model is a network design wherein the processing of data is positioned closer to the subscribers by placing computing equipment near a base station or a small cell. The computing components will be powered by stacks of graphics processing cards and other general-purpose computers, and it will be managed by a virtualized, software defined network. This setup reduces the distance traveled by data across a cellular network, resulting in lower latency and faster processing of information. Decreased latency is important for use cases where critical data needs to be transferred in real time, like autonomous vehicles, Internet-of-Things, and medical equipment.
Knight stated that AT&T will push through with the launch of its 5G network next year, although the executive did not provide any specific details on whether its initial 5G service offering will focus on either fixed broadband or mobile data use cases. In comparison, its largest rival, Verizon, has previously disclosed that it will launch its fixed broadband service next year, while T-Mobile will commence its mobile 5G service sometime in 2019. In the meantime, AT&T will continue to test its 5G service, with the carrier expanding its fixed wireless broadband trials to three more cities in the United States. The carrier plans to use the mmWave standard, which uses short-range, extremely high-frequency bands to transmit data at increased speeds. In this standard, the signals are transmitted from one origination point, and relayed between multiple smaller transmission points until it reaches the user's device. This setup is useful for providing fixed wireless broadband, although a separate setup might be needed to deliver mobile 5G service.