AT&T boosted wireless data rates in 20 US cities using a combination of carrier aggregation, unlicensed technology and MIMO: a move it said forms part of its preparations for 5G deployments.
Speaking on AT&T’s Q3 earnings call, CFO John Stephens (pictured) said he is “optimistic” the operator can hit speeds of around 400Mb/s by the end of this year. Stephens noted the push follows tests AT&T ran in San Francisco which delivered speeds of around 750Mb/s using the trio of carrier aggregation, MIMO and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA).
“With those we are optimistic that we’re going to get flow-through speeds that could cap 400Mb/s even by the end of the year,” Stephens said: “Those things are going on now. When you take those plans out a few years, we have a plan to hit the largest 30 cities with that capability.”
Stephens acknowledged actual speeds experience by customers would likely be a fraction of the 400Mb/s rate. However, even a 40Mb/s rate would be well above the average AT&T download speed of 12.92Mb/s measured by OpenSignal in August.
The CFO said the speed boost is a precursor to AT&T’s plan to begin rolling out 5G services in late 2018. Stephens reported AT&T is continuing 28GHz tests in Austin and elsewhere, and is still awaiting approval from the Federal Communications Commission to acquire FiberTower’s 28GHz and 39GHz licences.
By 2020, AT&T aims to cover more than 50 million locations with high-speed broadband service using a combination of wireless 5G deployments and fibre to the premises, Stephens said.
FirstNet tower touches
Stephens reiterated AT&T is planning to streamline its network upgrades by aligning them with its construction of the FirstNet nationwide public safety network.
He noted the operator expects to issue initial FirstNet work orders in January once the opt-out deadline passes. To date, 27 states have affirmed their participation in AT&T’s build plans. States have until end-December to opt-out before being automatically enrolled in AT&T’s FirstNet build.
“One of the keys to all of this is we’re going to be out there on our network doing FirstNet work,” Stephens said: “So we’re going to have this opportunity – requirements to build out [fibre to] 12.5 million [locations], requirements to build out for FirstNet, but the opportunity to coordinate those builds and do it very effectively at the same time. So we’re pretty optimistic with it, not to mention I’m optimistic because of the $6.5 billion contribution we get from FirstNet to fund this build.”