AT&T says that its new “5G Evolution” network is rolling out today in Austin, Texas as an interim means of continuing its eventual migration to 5G while the 3GPP standards are being finalized. The industry expects Phase 1 of 5G specifications to arrive in Release 15, which will be completed by 2018. But that has not held AT&T back from jumping the gun on another marketing stunt that will complicate understanding for everyone but its most attentive observers.
5G Evolution is not built on 5G-NR technology in any way, but is actually re-brand of existing 4G LTE technology that AT&T claims is “twice as fast” through the use of carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, 256 QAM, and other improvements. Of course, most experts will be quick to note that these features have been implemented in the existing LTE Advanced specification since 3GPP Release 12 (March 2015).
AT&T first began rolling out its LTE-Advanced network in Chicago in March 2014, its first implementation of carrier aggregation that bonds two bands together (700MHz / 2100MHz) as a way of increasing bandwidth. The network was initially compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S5, allowing theoretical speeds of up to 110Mbps. Then in March 2017, the company confirmed its LTE-Advanced network would reach up to 1Gbps speeds at some cell sites by the end of the year under the name “5G Evolution,” as it continued a “true 5G” millimeter wave (mmWave) trial expansion in Minneapolis.
Samsung Galaxy S8 / S8+ owners get network access first
For the moment, only owners of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will be able to enjoy faster data speeds offered by AT&T’s re-branded 4G LTE-Advanced (5G Evolution) network. Given that its average LTE network speeds last month were 46.6Mbps in San Francisco, 37.7Mbps in Los Angeles, we can expect the upgraded “5G Evolution” interim network in Austin will pan out to at least 100Mbps in decent environmental conditions. Keep in mind that the company has advertised theoretical speeds of 1Gbps, though actual performance will depend on smartphone chipset and network capacity.
20 metropolitan areas by end of the year
AT&T says it will be launching its re-branded LTE-Advanced (5G Evolution) network in 20 other metropolitan areas across the US starting with Indianapolis later this summer. By the end of the year, the network should be available in areas including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco.