At CES 2017, AT&T announced the latest expansion of its 5G connectivity, which will include a test of the technology's ability to handle streaming content using the company's own DirecTV Now streaming television service.
The trial is set to take place in the first half of 2017 in Austin, Texas, where the company first began testing its 5G network in partnership with Intel and Ericsson. Residential customers living in the city will be able to stream the recently launched DirecTV Now streaming service over a fixed wireless 5G connection.
AT&T said in a press release that it will also test other "next-generation entertainment services" on the network, which may help the carrier skirt charges of net neutrality violations.
The company already has come under fire from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its decision to offer unlimited streaming of DirecTV Now to its subscribers regardless of data caps. The FCC views the practice, known as zero rating, as a violation to net neutrality because carriers treat certain data more favorably than other data.
AT&T dismissed warnings from the FCC over its practices, telling the regulatory body its policies are “error-ridden,” “nonsensical” and “untenable.” The company also blew off any potential punishment the FCC may issue, stating, “whatever judgment the Bureau purports to pass on this program before January 20 will very likely be reversed shortly thereafter”—an acknowledgement the FCC will undergo major changes under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Testing 5G using DirecTV Now will be one of the most demanding technical tests AT&T has performed on what it hopes will be the network of the future. Using millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, AT&T hopes to be able to achieve speeds of 1Gbps—a massive jump from 4G LTE, which maxes out at closer to 50 Mbps.
Jaime Fink, the co-founder of wireless technologies company Mimosa Networks, called the announced from AT&T and "concerted push to raise the profile of the high-frequency mmWave spectrum to prove its viability."
In a statement to IBTimes, Fink expressed his skepticism that AT&T's bet on mmWave technology is the best way to move forward.
"Countless ISPs that have deployed mmWave frequency technologies have demonstrated exactly what physics suggests – that shorter propagation, environmental absorption and foliage loss make the spectrum unusable for [non-line-of-sight] environments," he said, noting the majority of Americans live in such markets where mmWave has fallen short.
According to Fink, mmWave "will prove to be a poor license investment for 5G." He advocated for lower frequency spectrums to be utilized for mobile networks—which his company makes use of in its products.
AT&T will spend the second half of 2017 expanding its 5G tests. The second largest mobile carrier in the U.S. will team up with Qualcomm Technologies and Ericsson to experiment with mobile and fixed wireless trials.