Scouting the country to test its cutting-edge 5G wireless platform, communications giant AT&T chose Waco, specifically Magnolia Market at the Silos, South Sixth Street and Webster Avenue.
Then it included Waco in its list of the first cities to receive mobile 5G service this year, lumping it with Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Since then, it has added Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans and San Antonio to its initial 5G rollout.
And last weekend, AT&T chose Waco to conduct what it describes as “the world’s first wireless 5G data transfer over millimeter wave using standards-based, production equipment with a mobile form factor device.”
“Not a lab. Not preproduction hardware. Not emulators. And fully compliant with global standards,” according to an AT&T press release.
In other words this was the real deal, and Waco helped make history, AT&T spokeswoman Diane Brandon said in an email response to questions.
The data transfer was between a mobile test device and a 5G radio, with the mobile device representing future consumer mobile devices, Brandon said. The aim of this data transfer was to prove a successful “link” between a mobile device and the 5G network and to ensure they could “talk” to each other in a live, outdoor environment, Brandon said.
In this case, she said, the network received the data transfer from the device.
“We’re at the dawn of something new that will define the next decade and generation of connectivity,” AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch wrote in the press release. “Future smart factories and retailers, self-driving cars, untethered virtual and augmented realities, and other yet to be discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow’s 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation.”
Next year, AT&T will expand its 5G offerings into portions of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
Choosing Waco was part of the process, Brandon said.
“Where possible, we wanted to work with cities where local municipalities and governments embrace next generation technology and were open to AT&T installing the necessary infrastructure in their cities,” Brandon said, citing sources within the company. “Among other things, we also considered whether cities are nearby AT&T’s ‘hubs’ of Dallas and Atlanta.”
Long term, AT&T says 5G technology could play a role in devices that include sensors, street lights and water meters, in addition to personal devices.
Local residents and businesses will benefit from 5G in several ways, including faster wireless speeds and reduced latency, Brandon said.
“Latency can be described as ‘network lag time,’ or the time from when you push play on a video and it actually starts playing,” Brandon said. “For businesses, lower latency and higher speeds of 5G could eventually be used for hospitals experimenting with remote surgery to smart factories that utilize robots and sensors to source and pack items, or even local mom and pop shops that want to implement reliable wireless checkout systems and back office functions to help them do business faster.”
Practical applications for consumers could include “mobile gaming in 360 degree video in near real time, wireless augmented/virtual reality experiences, and a faster wireless connection to do things like video chat with family or stream movies on multiple devices without delay,” she said.
AT&T hopes to make a 5G-compatible mobile device available to consumers by the end of the year. Meanwhile, when device makers roll out their 5G-compatible devices, including smartphones, AT&T will make them available to AT&T customers, probably during the first half of next year, Brandon said.
“For (last) weekend’s successful Waco activation, our engineering teams used a Qualcomm Technologies’ smartphone form factor test device with integrated Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem and RF subsystem and Ericsson 5G-NR capable radios connected to our virtual 3X standards compliant core,” according to the press release.
Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said high-speed wireless communication has become a priority for business, especially among those choosing to locate in Waco’s burgeoning inner city.
“I don’t know if 5G will handle all of our growth priorities, but it does represent a service the business community finds attractive,” Henderson said.
Waco City Council member Dillon Meek said he often hears discussion of high-speed wireless communication and the potential it holds for business.
“The implications for Waco are remarkable,” Meek said. “I see this as something our business community will welcome and take advantage of.”