AT&T is planning to start limited 5G deployment in late 2018, Reuters reported Thursday. The second largest mobile service provider in the United States was waiting for major 5G standards to be finalized before deciding on a more specific roadmap for the technology and is now able to commit to a concrete deployment plan following the completion of the first 5G standard announced by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) late last month. The standard will serve as a basis for AT&T's initial deployment and testing of its technologies in select areas, with the Dallas, Texas-based telecom giant targeting approximately a dozen major U.S. cities for its 5G testbed.
The solution set to be commercialized by AT&T this year is said to be a true wireless service but the company may still be looking to deliver one that's meant to serve as an evolution of fixed wireless connections while relying on the newly standardized technology. Not all carriers in the country have been pursuing 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) with equal vigor, with some like T-Mobile being highly dismissive of 5G FWA's potential by claiming these services won't bring the wireless revolution promised by "true" 5G networks. Regardless, both AT&T and Verizon previously talked about 5G FWA as the first step toward the eventual nationwide commercialization of the fifth generation of mobile networks and Verizon is still adamant to go through with its plans to start offering such services to its subscribers as early as this year, though it's currently unclear whether AT&T will be skipping 5G FWA in its entirety after spending significant resources trialing it. Besides the recently defined 5G New Radio (NR) standard, AT&T's upcoming network will also leverage the premium portion of its 4G LTE infrastructure which it advertises as 5G Evolution and has previously faced criticism for doing so seeing how it attached the "5G" moniker to a 4G technology.
Opting for a wider rollout of 5G FWA in addition to "true" 5G may generate some near-term return on AT&T's massive infrastructural investments related to 5G research and development that affected its bottom line in recent years. Mobile 5G networks should offer national coverage by 2020, according to recent estimates.