AT&T VP of converged access and device technology Gordon Mansfield argued rivals may have jumped the gun on standalone (SA) 5G, noting a key technology had yet to be incorporated into consumer devices.

Mansfield told Mobile World Live the operator began limited SA deployments in late 2020 and was aiming to scale those to a consumer offering “later this year”, but was waiting for SA 5G carrier aggregation to reach handsets and tablets.

Without aggregation, Mansfield said operators can only use one spectrum channel to deliver connectivity rather than combining several, severely limiting their ability to deliver a performance lift from 4G or non-standalone 5G.

Mansfield argued “some competitors have maybe prematurely gone to standalone”, adding it “is the path you need to get to to truly evolve from a consumer experience perspective, but you have to be smart about when you evolve to make sure that you’re not taking steps backwards to then take steps forward”.

Rival T-Mobile US launched nationwide SA 5G in August 2020 using its low-band 600MHz spectrum. In October 2020 it announced it completed an SA 5G carrier aggregation test on 600MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum.

Mansfield said AT&T is working with vendors to test SA carrier aggregation-enabled silicon and believes it has “line of sight” to availability.

From there, he noted the silicon will need to be incorporated into consumer devices, after which AT&T will conduct end-to-end validation testing on its network.