Magnolia Market at the Silos will become a testing site for Dallas-based AT&T’s 5G wireless system. The company says the test will drastically increase internet speeds for workers at Waco’s most popular tourist attraction and the average of 5,000 people a day who visit from across the country.

AT&T is approaching other businesses in Waco about taking part in trials that will precede its 5G rollout late next year, but the company is “starting with the Silos,” said Marachel Knight, senior vice president for Wireless Network Architecture and Design, in a press release.

Technicians are installing almost a dozen access points around the Magnolia complex.

Waco will play host to about 2 million visitors in 2017, according to the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, with a sizable percentage bound for Magnolia Market.

“At Magnolia, we’re always looking for opportunities to implement innovative solutions,” Magnolia’s information technology manager David Washburn said in AT&T’s press release. “We’re excited to see how this technology enhances efficiencies for vendor partners and employees alike.”

AT&T has also launched 5G pilot programs in South Bend, Indiana, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in Austin, said Dave Wolter, assistant vice president of radio technology and strategy.

“We looked at Waco as a good market, given that my technology team is located in Austin, and we can get up there easily,” Wolter said. “The ability to partner with a well-known brand was very attractive to us. We’re looking at other cell sites, mostly around the downtown area, but we don’t yet have specific locations. We’re talking with other small business owners, and we’ll be making more announcements.”

Testing in Waco will involve millimeter wave spectrum and 5G radio and antenna prototypes, Wolter said. AT&T will use its network function virtualization platform, AT&T FlexWare, as the router for the 5G network, according to its press release.

“We’re hoping to have our first commercial deployment by the end of next year,” Wolter said. “Eventually we will offer it for both consumer and business use. We’re anticipating speeds 10 times faster than those currently available, which is why there is so much interest.”

Long-term, AT&T wants to test 5G’s use in applications such as virtual reality, long-distance control and long-range service, Wolter said. These could play a role in a “massive number of devices,” including sensors, street lights and water meters, whose use may overwhelm the speed and capacity available on the market today.

“Connectivity is at the core of every company’s digital transformation. 5G will have a significant impact on how businesses work and how they engage with their customers,” AT&T chief marketing officer Mo Katibeh said in the press release. “The trial with Magnolia helps drive a path for businesses of all sizes to have access to massive capacity via 5G to serve their employees and their customers in ways we couldn’t have even dreamed of just a few years ago.”

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