2019 Open Network Summit: AT&T Virtualizes its Network; Deploys White Boxes in Toronto and London; 400G and Open ROADM

Last week at the 2019 Open Network Summit, AT&T  announced that its white box switch/routers, which  interconnect compute servers in the network cloud, are live and carrying 5G traffic. This is part of the company’s push to virtualize its network, which at the end of 2018 had 65% virtualized network functions.  AT&T’s goal is to virtualize 75 percent of its core network functions by 2020. “This year (2019) our goal is to get to 70 percent,” Fuetsch said in his Thursday morning keynote. “Why not faster progress this year?  We left all the hard stuff for last.”

AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch during his keynote address at 2019 Open Network Summit

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Sidebar:  AT&T 5G White Boxes

The radio access network (RAN) includes radios on towers, small cells and other types of equipment that traditionally “were specialized, expensive devices sold by a small number of (wireless network equipment) vendors,” said Fuetsch in a blog post. Those vendors “dictated costs, technical capabilities and upgrade schedules. They controlled the hardware and the software.”

This status quo no longer makes sense, now that carriers are deploying 5G wireless, which will support higher speeds and lower latency, Fuetsch argues. Wireless network traffic is expected to skyrocket, but carriers cannot afford to increase the price of service commensurately.

AT&T previously released specifications for a white box router for use in its 5G network and invited vendors to submit proposals to build the router. Feutsch’s blog post notes that the company is working on additional hardware specs with the O-RAN Alliance, an industry group focused on defining 5G white box requirements.

The other AT&T 5G white box initiative highlighted in Fuetsch’s blog post is something he calls the “network cloud white box,” which he said is now live in the AT&T network and carrying 5G traffic.  This device would be a switch that would interconnect servers in the edge data centers that AT&T is establishing to support low-latency 5G wireless applications. Some of these applications need more processing power than end-user devices can support, which dictates a cloud approach. But the cloud resources must be located near the end-user to provide low latency.

The servers in the edge data centers are powered by the ONAP open source network operating system that AT&T played a key role in developing.  The white box deployment uses a software stack that will be part of the open source Disaggregated Network Operating System (DANOS) Project, and AT&T plans to introduce its code contribution to the community soon

Also in the blog post, Fuetsch noted that AT&T has deployed white boxes in Toronto and London to support internet service for business customers and that the company plans to offer the devices in 76 countries by the end of the year. In addition, he  said AT&T is working on technology that would enable a single fiber optic wavelength to carry 400 Gbps.  For its 400G deployment, AT&T expects to use Open ROADM optical networking for interoperability, to achieve more competition, mix and match between vendors, and lower the barrier to entry for startup vendors, Fuetsch said.

“These white boxes and open source routing software that we’re deploying, the cell site router initiative that we’re putting in is going to 65,000 (domestic) cell sites over the coming years,” Fuetsch said.

AT&T contributed its white box specs to the Open Compute Project last year, which led to the development of the cell site router gateway that it’s showing at ONS this week. AT&T is demonstrating a white box router gateway from UfiSpace that was developed via the OCP specifications.

Fuetsch said AT&T planned to update 65,000 cell tower sites with the UfiSpace white boxes. While he didn’t provide a timeline, he said those efforts were ramping up this year.

“This is a hardware box that is based on Broadcom’s Qumran chipset, and it’s basically a cell site router that is a hardened for extreme environmental conditions,” Fuetsch said. “So think like negative 40 Celsius up to 65 degrees Celsius operating ranges. It’s also a box that basically can support interfaces from as low as 100 megs all the way up to 100 gig for both supporting our radio based RAN units as well as our backhaul needs.”

While AT&T hasn’t said which vendors it’s using for the internet white boxes, AT&T is running its Vyatta software stack on them, which Fuetsch said AT&T still planned to contribute into the Linux Foundation’s DANOS community at some point this year.  These open, white box systems allow AT&T to run 10 times as much traffic as the proprietary routers it previously bought at the same price. Fuetsch declined to give a time frame for when a majority of AT&T’s network might operate on open source-based hardware, but said certain aspects of it will in the coming years.

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Regarding AT&T’s motivations for open source, Fuetsch identified security, freedom of choice, flexibility, and interoperability. “As we shift from a hardware-centric network to a more software-centric network we needed a way to get our software to become more open, more flexible. We also were looking for software that’s more secure. Open source is inherently more secure because you have more eyeballs on it,” he said.

“We believe that not only having more open reference designs on the hardware level but also having more open source based projects in that ecosystem will drive more innovation, more economic solutions, more competition, thus a better experience and products and services for our customers,” he said. “Open source has really become a major foundation to a lot of our major network initiatives.”

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AT&T’s Network by the Numbers:

• 214 Countries & territories
• 1.1M+ Global fiber route miles
• 253 Petabytes per day

“5G” Deployment:

• 12 5G US cities launched (with pre-IMT 2020 standard, 3GPP Release 15 NR, NSA implementation)
• 9 additional 5G US cities coming soon
• Nationwide 5G early 2020 (IMT 2020 won’t be completed by then)

In the next 5 years [Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast & Trends 2/27/19]:

• 3x Increase global IP traffic
• 7x Increase mobile IP Traffic
• 71% Traffic from wireless devices

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References:

https://about.att.com/story/2019/open_networking_summit_2019.html

https://about.att.com/innovationblog/2019/04/open_source_and_white_box.html

https://events.linuxfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Fuetsch-ONS-2019-keynote-FINAL.pdf

AT&T CEO Talks up 5G: Deploying small cells, China/Huawei – Security or Critical U.S. Infrastructure Risk?

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said China still lags behind the U.S. in the 5G race (for dubious reasons- see comment in box below this article), but slow cell site permitting processes in the U.S. and heavy Chinese investment, coupled with Huawei’s 5G dominance, could change the situation. Also, European carriers that use Huawei equipment in 4G networks are unable to switch suppliers for 5G networks because “Huawei is not allowing interoperability to 5G-— meaning if you are 4G, you are stuck with Huawei for 5G,”  said Stephenson during an interview with Carlisle Group co-founder David Rubenstein at the Economic Club in Washington DC.

“When the Europeans say we got a problem — that’s their problem. They really don’t have an option to go to somebody else…To me, the biggest risk is not that the Chinese government might listen in on our phone conversations or mine our data some how if we use their equipment. That’s not the issue,” he said.

Stephenson is worried about how the 5G equipment could eventually be connected to millions of devices tied to critical  U.S. infrastructure — including autonomous cars, manufacturing floors, robotics, refineries and traffic management in cities.  “We have to ask ourselves a question: If that much of our infrastructure will be attached to this kind of (5G) technology, do we want to be cautious about who is the underlying company behind that technology? We damn well better be,” Stephenson said.

AT&T’s CEO is very optimistic about 5G technology, claiming it “will be the most transformative of all the Gs … you can’t conceive all the services that 5G implies.”

But in a 5G world millions of “things” will be connected and located within a square mile.  To make that possible, AT&T will deploy hundreds of thousands of small cell sites throughout the U.S.  They will be placed on light poles, sides of buildings, roof tops and other structures.

According to the AT&T CEO, 5G is a more efficient technology, delivering a better smartphone user experience, but it won’t be cheaper than 4G.  AT&T has not “worked out what or pricing arithmetic looks like,” Stephenson said.

Regarding 5G replacing smartphone screens with Internet video enabled smart eye glasses, Stephenson said:

We carry around these devices and they’re bigger than they should be, because there’s a lot of computing in here, there’s a lot of storage in here. When you get to 5G, all that computing, all that storage goes away — it’s back in the network. These form factors, some would say they shrink.

I say they go away. It is conceivable that we’re going to be moving into a world without screens, a world where this [points to his eye glasses] is your screen. You don’t need any more of a form factor than this, once the computing and storage requirements move out and into the network. And guys like you [waving to the TV cameras in the back] can think very differently about how you deliver your content to your customers. It becomes a delivery without screens. It’s just a totally different experience. …

AT&T is right at the very center of all this because, if you ask yourself: Five years from now, in this room, will you be consuming more or less global bandwidth. More? Who thinks more? Will you be consuming more or less premium entertainment? More? Well, I like where we are on both of those.

You can watch and listen to Stephenson’s 52 1/2 minute talk here.

References:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/20/business/att-randall-stephenson-5g/index.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-att-ceo-huawei-tech/att-ceo-says-chinas-huawei-hinders-carriers-from-shifting-suppliers-for-5g-idUSKCN1R12TX

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AT&T says its leading wireless and fiber network, including investments in new technology such as 5G, will provide the network bandwidth required as customers increase engagement with premium video and emerging 4K and virtual reality content.

AT&T is now a software company: “Software is increasingly at the heart of everything we do. Whether a patent or an open source project, software is the future of AT&T. Software is our thing,” AT&T’s Mazin Gilbert wrote in a blog post.

 

AT&T tests 5G and network edge computing with Microsoft Azure; Partners with Vodafone Business for IoT

AT&T  announced  at MWC 2019 that it is working with Microsoft on a proof of concept to integrate network edge compute (NEC) capabilities with its 5G network and Microsoft Azure cloud services.  The solution would be important for the industries and Internet of Things (IoT) use cases of retail, healthcare, public safety, entertainment, and manufacturing, AT&T said, as it would provide businesses with lower latency, access to high compute power, and network routing without needing on-premises hardware.

“We’re testing our ability to substantially reduce latency and improve user experience by deploying advanced cloud services in specific geographic locations closer to business sites. A fully-scaled deployment will give businesses access to compute power, lower latency and optimized network routing without the need for dedicated on-premises hardware.”  These advantages will be important for the low-latency cloud and IoT solutions used by retail, healthcare, public safety, manufacturing and entertainment.

Last month, AT&T* announced its approach to 5G for businesses, laying out three key pillars: mobile, fixed and edge computing.

“Our collaboration will pave the way to enable Microsoft Azure cloud services to connect to more customers and devices across the US through AT&T’s nationwide wireless network,” Microsoft corporate VP of Azure Networking Yousef Khalidi said.   “Our two companies are working together to achieve the low-latency connectivity needed for the explosion of devices and immense amount of data being created by computing at the edge,” he added.

AT&T is using drones to test the network edge compute capabilities with Azure, working with Israel-based startup Vorpal in its foundry in Plano, Texas.  Vorpal’s VigilAir product detects and geo-locates drones in real-time, which could be used by law enforcement agencies and airports.

“By running their VigilAir application using Azure cloud services delivered through the Plano AT&T test environment, and connecting their drone-tracking sensors using AT&T LTE and 5G networks, Vorpal could achieve the low latency and compute scalability required,” the carrier said.

AT&T expects to share more details about NEC services with Microsoft Azure later this year. NEC is part of AT&T’s broader edge compute strategy that also includes AT&T Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC).

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Earlier at MWC 2019, AT&T announced it’s working with Vodafone Business on IoT applications for the automotive space, including safety, security, and entertainment.

“This alliance with Vodafone Business is a natural extension of our existing relationship,” said Chris Penrose, President, Internet of Things Solutions, AT&T. “We each have rich experience in connected vehicle technology.  By working together, we can innovate faster and help our global customers bring connectivity, entertainment and telematics to more vehicles across our respective footprints.”

“Our work with AT&T will benefit automotive manufacturers and their customers around the world as we simplify processes and provide a consistent experience to accelerate IoT adoption in this fast-moving market,” said Stefano Gastaut, IoT Director, Vodafone Business. “As technology complexity increases, this is the right time to make technology adoption easier for the automotive industry to help them achieve their business outcomes. This is the goal of this alliance.”

The two companies said they would develop connected car solutions across 5G and autonomous vehicle technology; vehicle-to-everything (V2X) capabilities; in-vehicle entertainment; connected car applications and services; global service quality models; and the intersection of connected cars and smart cities.

The companies will prioritize projects to enhance safety, security and entertainment capabilities. Key areas of focus will be:

  • 5G and autonomous vehicle technology
  • V2X capabilities (vehicle-to-everything)
  • In-vehicle entertainment
  • Connected car applications and services
  • Global service quality models
  • Connected car/ smart cities intersection

AT&T and Vodafone Business each provide connected car services and products for the automotive, fleet and insurance industries. They integrate electronic and telematics systems into complex vehicles, both at the point of manufacture and beyond. Together, the companies bring more than 50 years of experience in the automotive industry. And they collectively work with nearly 50 global automotive brands and connect more than 43 million cars and trucks on the road today.

References:

https://about.att.com/story/2019/att_nec.html

https://www.zdnet.com/article/mwc-2019-at-t-tests-5g-and-edge-computing-with-microsoft-azure/

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/att-and-vodafone-business-team-up-to-drive-internet-of-things-iot-connectivity-in-the-automotive-industry-300800916.html

AT&T to shut down 3G network in 2022; Verizon at end of 2019

AT&T will shut down its 3G network in early 2022 as the company shifts its focus to 5G implementation (?) and compatible 4G LTE networks. Research firm Ovum estimates that the number of devices using 3G exceeds 85 million, while AT&T reports that 3G was still the choice for 11% of the company’s postpaid users last year.

AT&T’s decision to shutter 3G, disclosed in a Wednesday regulatory filing, follows rival Verizon Communications’s  warning that it will disconnect 3G cellphones at the end of this year.  Verizon said in a recent filing it is “aggressively refarming 3G bands” for 4G but still needs more spectrum to keep up with its users’ demands.  Verizon executive Ronan Dunne told investors at a Thursday meeting that its 5G service will reach 30 cities this year. AT&T’s 5G service touched parts of 12 cities at the end of 2018, with nationwide service expected in 2020.

AT&T logo

The demise of 3G in the U.S. has been all but certain after cellphone carriers spent billions of dollars over the past decade to blanket the country with 4G service. That standard, also known as long-term evolution, or LTE, allows users to download data 10 times as fast as its predecessor and has paved the way for many smartphone apps that require ample mobile bandwidth.

Winding down obsolete versions is a habit for telecom companies. In the 1990s they pushed analog cellphone users to the first digital standards, and later persuaded 2G users to upgrade to one of several wireless technologies with the 3G label.

The companies are driven by necessity. Cellphone users with unlimited data plans stream more video on the go, testing the limits of what service providers can handle. Getting customers off 3G allows carriers to free up wireless frequencies for 4G signals over broader swaths of the radio spectrum.

Early 3G phones kicked off the smartphone era by giving customers a reason to use their devices for more than just talking and texting. Apple Inc.’s cellphone sales took off after it launched the iPhone 3G.

AT&T said 11% of its postpaid customers were using 3G service at the end of 2018. More than 85 million devices use 3G, according to research firm Ovum. They include smartphones, tablets and devices like vehicle-location trackers. The coming changes could also affect users of prepaid cellphone brands like TracFone that use other companies’ networks.

Telecom executives are already shifting their attention to the latest group of engineering standards known as 5G, which are expected to make video streaming and downloads even quicker. The specifications also support many more connections at once, allowing carriers to go after more types of gadgets.

The end of 4G LTE service, if it comes, is years away. ITU-R [1] and ITU-T haven’t finished writing 5G standards, and telecom companies say it will take years to make 5G commonplace. Companies are less motivated to kill 4G service because it can work in tandem with 5G, unlike previous generations that forced carriers to devote a band of wireless spectrum to one technology.

Note 1.  An AT&T representative chairs ITU-R WP 5D which is responsible for the IMT 2020 (official 5G) standard.  Another AT&T rep chairs the WP 5D SWG on Radio Aspects within the Technology WG.  Hence, AT&T has tremendous influence and impact on IMT 2020 yet it’s marketing communications department falsely claims the company has deployed “standards based” mobile 5G.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/at-t-gives-3g-service-three-years-to-live-11550765221

Have a 3G phone? Here’s why it’s time to start thinking about upgrading

 

 

AT&T’s 5G Use Cases at NGNM Conference on Licensing Practices in 5G Industry Segments

Dawn Of The 5G World –  AT&T Perspective

by Michael Robinson Director, Business Development AT&T Intellectual Property

Current “5G” Deployment:
• Live in 12 Cities: Atlanta, Charlotte & Raleigh, NC, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, FL, Louisville, KY, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio & Waco, TX
• Millimeter wave spectrum

2019-2020 “5G” Deployment:
• Live in 9+ additional cities: Austin TX, Las Vegas, Nashville, New York City, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, CA, (millimeter wave spectrum)
• Nationwide coverage available early 2020 (sub 6Ghz spectrum)

5G Use Cases:
1.  Healthcare
• Provide more effective healthcare and improve revenue realization for providers
• Minimize need for annual exams or office visits
• Wearables/Home Sensors provide near constant monitoring
• Alert healthcare providers of potential ailments or abnormalities
• Preventative Care: wearables will calculate daily recommendations, provide prompting based on medical records, real-time vitals, projected needs
• Hospital of the Future: collaboration with Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health

2. Retail
• Enable in-store 3D printers to create custom products
• AR/VR to try on clothing
• Home improvement stores use VR to create personalized demo of remodeling options

3. Finance
• Create highly customized financial/insurance experiences
• High resolution video enables customer interaction with in-person or AI representatives
• Security – AI cyber immune system to send threat intelligent defender cells from one edge of the network to the other
• Insurance companies
• Dispatch drones for claim investigations
• Holographic teleportation for adjusters – tour damaged property to provide benefits more rapidly

4. Manufacturing
• IoT neural network enables a ‘brain’ to react, calibrate and optimize end-to-end manufacturing process
• Robots mimicking human capabilities to carry out high-risk, dangerous tasks
• Network reliability and low latency enables manufacturing equipment to communicate wirelessly with back-end systems for time critical  operations
• Samsung Austin Semiconductor “Innovation Zone”
• Test bed for the Smart Factory
• Location services to improve safety
• Industrial IoT sensors – environmental & equipment conditions

AT&T Foundry (Plano, TX) – Use Case Development:
• Plano Foundry prototypes innovative solutions for AT&T customers in manufacturing, retail, finance, public sector
• 5G functionality (2019) to co-create 5G solutions:
• Using 5G-enabled network slicing in a manufacturing shop floor to create a separate network for operational equipment efficiency,
• Transform the retail buying experience for consumers through innovative solutions like digital signage, IoT-enabled smart shelving and auto-inventory tracking,
• Enabling life-changing healthcare technologies, like Aira, that use our IoT connectivity to bridge the physical gap between caregiver and patient,
• Deploying drones to rethink the damage assessment process for insurance companies, and ………………
• Applying AI or machine learning techniques to enhance situational awareness for first responders

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/itu-ngmn/Documents/2018/Michael_Robinson_Presentation.pdf

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NGMN Alliance Backgrouner:  by Peter Meissner, CEO NGMN

The NGMN Alliance was founded by leading international mobile network operators in 2006 with the “Objective to ensure that functionality and performance of next generation mobile network infrastructure, service platforms and devices will meet the requirements of operators and, ultimately, will satisfy end user demand and expectations.”

§ NGMN actively drives global alignment and convergence of technology standards and industry initiatives with the objective to avoid fragmentation and to guarantee industry scale.

§ A global presence has been established that comprises a leadership network of about 90 Partners: Operators, Vendors, Software Companies and Universities. These Partners are contributing to and delivering the results of the Work Programme with a focus on 5G. Several Cooperation Partners support the NGMN Alliance by two-way liaison statements.

§ The 5G Eco-System is different! New use cases beyond mobile broadband like massive IoT as well as highly demanding requirements from Vertical Industries on low latency, ultra-high reliability and security are causing substantial network transformation. Service Based Architecture, Network Slicing as well as Network Function Virtualisation are the solutions with major impact on network architecture and operations.

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/itu-ngmn/Documents/2018/Peter_Meissner_Presentation.pdf

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http://techblog.comsoc.org/2019/02/01/ngnm-alliance-holds-conference-on-5g-and-iot-licensing-ran-core-network-report-with-wba/

NGNM Alliance conference with ITU on 5G and IoT licensing; RAN/Core Network report with WBA

The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGNM) Alliance and ITU organized and successfully held a multi-stakeholder conference on licensing practices in the emerging, pre-standard 5G industry and the Internet of Things (IoT). The conference, held in Geneva, Switzerland,  attracted representatives from network operators including NTT Docomo, vendors including Ericsson, Nokia and Microsoft, and licensing and standards bodies such as ETSI and the Japanese and European Patent Offices.

Also participating were representatives from vertical industries set to benefit from the introduction of 5G – including automotive, consumer electronics and semiconductors – as well as patent tool administrators.

A host of insightful sessions took place igniting an inclusive exchange on:

  • Patent licensing practices with interactive discussions that focused on issues stakeholders need to be aware of.
  • Sharing licensors’, licensees’ and pool administrators’ requirements on patent pools/platforms.
  • Identifying proposed practices and conducts for paent licensors and licensees.
  • Listing requirements for increasing transparency and assessing essentiality of Standard Essential Patents declared to Standards Developing Organisations.

“It’s great to notice that our joint ITU-NGMN conference has been such a success. Obviously, the 5G ecosystem is different. New use cases beyond mobile broadband – like massive IoT as well as highly demanding requirements from vertical industries on low latency, ultra-high reliability and security – are causing substantial network transformation,”  NGMN CEO Dr. Peter Meissner said.  All these challenges have implications on the intellectual property of mobile network operators and across the different industry segments. Conferences like this are key in identifying IPR issues and exploring solutions for the enlarged ecosystem,” he added.

On a related matter, NGMN will be hosting a Press & Industry Briefing on 5G use cases beyond mobile broadband on 26thFebruary 2019, from 11am – noon at Mobile World Congressin Barcelona, Spain. If you are interested in attending or speaking to an NGMN representative, please contact:  ngmn(at)proactive-pr.com.

https://www.ngmn.org/news/ngmn-news-and-press-releases/ngmn-news-and-press-releases-details/ngmn-paves-the-way-for-the-development-of-5g-patent-licensing-practices-across-industry-segments.html

AT&T’s 5G Use Cases at NGNM Conference on Licensing Practices in 5G Industry Segments

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NGMN and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) have published the first results of their collaboration to drive the convergence of multi-technology RANs and core networks. The joint report identifies a number of emerging opportunities and use cases that the industry can benefit from through the convergence of 3GPP’s 5G and Wi-Fi, driven by the ever-enhancing capabilities of licenced and unlicensed technologies. It also highlights the key challenges, which must first be addressed in order to realise convergence over 3GPP Access and Wi-Fi – including tighter integration of Wi-Fi access in 5G networks, network manageability and policy control, and the enablement of Wi-Fi-only devices.

The convergence opportunity

Wi-Fi and cellular ecosystems have traditionally followed their own development paths. The latest versions of each technology have greatly enhanced capability compared with early offerings, with Wi-Fi 6 and 3GPP’s 5G, encompassing New Radio (NR) and LTE from Release 15 onwards, as well as the 3GPP 5G Core. However, as society increasingly depends on fast reliable data connectivity, NGMN and WBA believe an important capability for the industry is the convergence at a network level between 5G and Wi-Fi, so that the unique and complementary capabilities of both RANs can be leveraged to provide seamless network services. Bearing in mind that a significant amount of data traffic from smartphones use a Wi-Fi access, this will lead to a better user experience and create new business opportunities for both Wi-Fi and cellular providers.

New resource requirements

The report identifies a number of use cases and verticals that may require combined resources from both 5G and Wi-Fi networks in providing cost effective solutions that meet diverse sets of requirements on throughput, latency, connection density, coverage, availability and reliability. For example, enterprise services on cellular networks, and in particular, those that the 5G Core enables, may require a new look at the use of an access neutral mechanism for a number of reasons. These include gaps in coverage, the proliferation of indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi deployments, and potential for multi-site enterprise environments.

“Convergence of 5G and Wi-Fi can potentially bring major benefits to cellular operators, enterprise Wi-Fi and public Wi-Fi solution providers, giving access to 5G and enterprise services from both Wi-Fi and 5G access networks.” said Dr. Peter Meissner, CEO of the NGMN Alliance. “However, in order to realise service and network convergence, we have worked with the WBA to identify a number of requirements that must first be satisfied. This is particularly true in the enterprise and Public Wi-Fi space, where there is a demand from cellular operators for a standardised solution for improved visibility and control in the configuration and management of Wi-Fi access networks.”

5G/Wi-Fi Interworking

A number of industry developments and specifications address the interworking of 5G and Wi-Fi from a technical standpoint:

  • 3GPP has already developed specifications to ensure tight integration of 3GPP and non-3GPP radio technologies, such as Wi-Fi. In order to better serve customers and provide the full 5G experience the tight integration of non-3GPP technologies needs to be ensured also within the 5G Core Network. Solutions enabling some of these objectives have already been adopted by 3GPP and Wi-Fi 6, such as the EAP authentication framework similar to Wi-Fi, to accommodate different wireless service subscription-types (e.g. mobile, wireless or fixed broadband) and their native authentication methods.
  • 3GPP Release 15 provides some support for interworking between 5G and Wi-Fi. In particular, 3GPP Release 15 provides support for untrusted non-3GPP access (such as Wi-Fi) to the 5G core via Non-3GPP Interworking Function (N3IWF), with secure transport of Control-Plane/User-Plane (CP/UP) messages over an IKEv2/IPSec tunnels between the terminal devices and the N3IWF
  • 3GPP Release 16 is continuing the work by enhancing capabilities for Wi-Fi integration, including trusted Wi-Fi support and access traffic steering, switching and splitting.

However, challenges and needs remain – including the enablement of Wi-Fi only devices to connect to the 5G core, further study to ensure the tight integration between 5G and Wi-Fi networks, an interface to enable certain level of network manageability and policy control between 5G core and Wi-Fi networks, and the ability of a client to route traffic over one or more accesses, making optimal use of the available connectivity. As a next step, the WBA and NGMN are undergoing further study on these challenges in order to uncover potential solutions. This will culminate in the recommendation of a future strategy for Converged RAN deployment, ensuring the best user experience making use of both Wi-Fi and Cellular access.

Tiago Rodrigues, General Manager of WBA said: “Wi-Fi 6 introduces new capabilities for carriers, cities and enterprises to cost effectively provide additional coverage and capacity, mainly indoor, to address the 5G use case requirements. Now it’s time to fully capitalize on these capabilities by delivering a clear strategic path for converged RAN deployments. This is a priority. We will continue to work closely with NGMN and its members to review, develop and test potential solutions, as identified in our recent 5G White Paper.”

https://www.ngmn.org/news/ngmn-news-and-press-releases/ngmn-news-and-press-releases-details/ngmn-wireless-broadband-alliance-join-forces-to-address-ran-convergence-opportunities.html

https://www.ngmn.org/fileadmin/ngmn/content/downloads/Technical/2019/RAN_Convergence_Paper_V2.pdf

 

AT&T Extends Fiber Footprint, Grows Wireless Network; Identifies 2019 Strategic Initiatives

AT&T’s fiber footprint continues to grow. On yesterdays 4Q2018 earnings call, AT&T CFO John Stephens said:  “We now passed more than 1 million customer locations with fiber and are on our way to hit the 40 million locations later this year. This will extend our fiber network to 22 million locations when include business. Subscribers on our fiber network increased by more than 1 million last year, driving the number of total broadband customers in our fiber footprint to substantially more than 3 million, and the longer we have fiber in the market the higher our penetration rates go.,,This performance is helping drive broadband revenue growth.”

AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson added:  “We also accelerated our fiber deployment and we now reach a 11 million customer locations in addition to 8 million business locations. As a result, our broadband business grew by over 6% in the quarter and it’s really important to note that this fiber deployment is foundational to our 5G network.”

During the Q&A session, Stephenson said: “we will finish the lion share of the fiber build by mid-year. We’ll be at 14 million locations passed with our fiber footprint. You’re seeing now the impact as we move our customers into the fiber footprint. You’re not seeing the overall broadband subscribers grow, but as people migrate to fiber you’re seeing a significant lift in ARPU. We had 6% broadband growth in the fourth quarter with no overall subscriber growth. We added about 250,000 fiber customers roughly.”

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In the communications segment, AT&T’s largest business, the carrier and media giant gained a net 134,000 phone subscribers who pay a monthly bill, falling far short of analysts’ estimates of 208,000, according to research firm FactSet. AT&T has 153 million total phone subscribers. Churn, or the rate of customer defections, was 1 percent during the fourth quarter, up from 0.89 percent the previous year.

Stephenson played up AT&T’s wireless network when he said: “In terms of our networks, our quality and performance are on a very strong trajectory. GWS named us the best network and the most comprehensive study that’s been conducted. We introduced the first standards based mobile 5G network in parts of 12 cities last month and our first net deployments finished the year well ahead of schedule.”

During the Q&A, he added:  “I will say over time three to five year time horizon unequivocally 5G will serve as a fixed broadband replacement product. I am very convicted that that will be the case. We are obviously on a standards-based path. We want a standards-based path that is mobile (5G) first, but just like every other product evolution and mobility this will play out the same.”

“Will you have enough capacity with 5G to have a good broadband product that serves as a streaming service for all of your DIRECTV NOW, your Netflix, etc? I absolutely am convinced that we will have that capacity, particularly as we turn up millimeter wave spectrum. That’s where the capacity and the performance comes from and that’s where you’ll begin to see a broad – a true replacement opportunity for fixed line broadband. So I have little doubt that in the three to five year time horizon you’ll start to see substitution of wireless for fixed line broadband.”

With respect to AT&T’s 5G Evolution (which is really 4G+), Stephens said: “We also made significant strides in our (5G, but really 4G+) network of evolution in the fourth quarter. Randall told you about our network leadership (referred ti as “standards based 5G;” yet the IMT 2020 standard won’t be completed till late 2020 at the earliest) in 5G introduction. With the additional spectrum we’re adding, carrier aggregation and other network improvements, 5G evolution is producing better speeds for our customers today when compared to standard LTE. Our first net deployment is reaching critical mass and providing a tailwind for our results.”

During the Q&A session Stephens added: “We’re seeing the effects of 5G evolution be real and in customers hands today which is making a difference. We do have about 450,000 FirstNet qualified customers from about 5000 organizations or departments that have signed up for it. A significant amount of those early adopters were migrations, so maybe close to two thirds or 60% or so, but we are now getting a lot of new ads. And as this build out gets passed the existing 40% in the 50%, 60% and 70% so to speak as we continue make that progress, I think you’ll see us begin to grow that new customer share and numbers significantly.

So we really do view that as a tailwind for the whole business as it improves existing customers quality, speed, throughput, but it also gives us visibility which we’ve been successful at, our teams had a good job with gaining new customers.”

Analysts: AT&T Earnings Weren't That Bad

Here are AT&T’s strategic goals for 2019:

Here are the 4Q2018 Results of AT&T’s Communications business:

Analyst Opinions:

AT&T’s revenue of $47.99 billion missed estimates of $48.5 billion. AT&T also reported net additions of 134,000 phone subscribers, below analyst estimates of 308,000. The company also lost 403,000 satellite TV subscribers and 14 percent of its DirecTV Now streaming subscribers in the quarter.

Bank of America analyst David Barden said that, despite the quarter’s shortcomings, AT&T is moving in the right direction. “Within the wireless business, which accounts for 50% of total EBITDA, service revenue grew, net adds were positive, and EBITDA beat by a material amount as the handset upgrade rate was much lower than expected,” Barden wrote.

Raymond James analyst Frank Louthan said AT&T is prioritizing deleveraging its balance sheet in 2019 and should be able to hit its 2.5 times target by the end of the year.  “We believe the video sub trends will be offset as marketing packages with mobility and FirstNet take hold and drive improved profitability per sub, but this could take time for investors to see the signs,” Louthan wrote.

Morgan Stanley analyst Simon Flannery said there were some encouraging signs for investors in the fourth quarter, but AT&T has limited near-term financial visibility as it digests its Time Warner acquisition.

 

AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan on 4GE, 5G enterprise use cases, and partners

AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan and MediaLink Chairman and CEO Michael Kassan explored  5G and its potential opportunity for robotic manufacturing, AR/VR and mixed reality, sporting experiences, public safety and beyond.

Image result for pic of john donovan at CES 2019

Evidently, John Donovan isn’t concerned about the criticism that his company has faced for updating some 4G-LTE phones to display the 5G E label, a move that competitors are calling misleading for customers.  Nor is he concerned that AT&T’s description of their so called mobile 5G deployed in 12 U.S. cities last month is: “standards based,” when it really is not.  A video stated:”AT&T is the first to deliver standards based mobile 5G.”  In fact, it is neither standards based or 5G as per ITU-R WP5D or 3GPP (which is NOT a standards organization).

“If I occupy beachfront real estate in my competitors’ heads, that makes me smile,” Donovan on Wednesday told CES attendees during a keynote in Las Vegas. HIs comments came one day after some customers discovered that their phones had changed from reading LTE to 5G E, which stands for 5G Evolution. The move, which caused some confusion, was meant to indicate that the phones were now accessing a network twice as fast as 4G LTE, Donovan said, and one that would pave the way for 5G.

Competitors slammed AT&T over the move. T-Mobile poked fun at the marketing ploy on Twitter. Verizon took out a full-ad in The New York Times, The Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal and USA Today to tell customers that it wouldn’t make the same move. And Sprint’s CTO told Engadget that “AT&T is blatantly misleading consumers.”

The 5G Evolution network is currently available in hundreds of markets for certain phones. Donovan said it is a stepping stone to the fifth generation of wireless technology and is twice as fast as the 4G LTE network that most mobile phones connect to, though still not as fast as 5G will be.

Donovan wrote off the criticism as frustration from competitors over AT&T’s “5G” advancements. In the fall, the company announced that it would make a mobile 5G network and mobile 5G devices available to consumers by the end of the year. In December, its pre standard mobile 5G network went live in 12 cities. Even with AT&T’s 5G work, it could be years before most Americans connect to 5G on their mobile phones.  Donovan said, “the (5G) network wont be as broad geographically as to be a consumer benefit.”  Therefore AT&T will concentrate on industrial users such as enterprise campus and in building wireless networks.

While Donovan did note that “media will be most transformed” by 5G technology, he shared a number of different industrial use cases. The AT&T executive said that 5G could be used to update billboards in real time and make them personalized based on the interests of drivers. 5G will also be instrumental in making mixed-VR headsets like Magic Leap, which AT&T has invested in, usable in mobile environments.  He also referred to a new partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, but did not elaborate.  Rush Hospital in Chicago was another 5G partner Donovan noted.  “Those are front burners, rather than downloading a movie faster,” he said.

As AT&T prepares for 5G, Donovan said he  is rethinking the retail experience. “What’s the WOW experience in our store? The WOW stands for ‘walk out and watch,'” he said, explaining that he wants customers to know about the content coming from Warner Media, which AT&T recently acquired. “It’s providing a whole new set of opportunities for the media business.”

AT&T to deploy live mobile “5G” in the U.S. on Dec. 21st, but limited to single WiFi hotspot endpoint

Whew!  I don’t have to hold my breath any longer!  But is it really 5G?  And whom other than stadiums/parks will buy it with only a single end device offered- a WiFi hotspot?

AT&T announced today that they will be offering their so called “5G” mobile network service in 12 cities on December 21st.  The telco/media conglomerate says: “AT&T will be the first and only company in the U.S. to offer a mobile 5G device over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network.”

Please see Author’s Closing Comments below, which refute that “standards based” claim.  We’ve repeatedly pounded the table that 3GPP Release 15 NR NSA is not 5G and nothing that comes out of 3GPP is a standard (as per their own website!).

As expected, AT&T’s initial 5G launch will use mmWave spectrum [1], which is claimed to offer users a faster mobile experience than standard LTE.  The 5G service starts small and will be limited.  AT&T’s mobile 5G network is live  in parts of 12 cities: Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Fla., Louisville, Ky., Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, N.C., San Antonio and Waco, Texas.

Note 1.  Millimeter waves occupy the frequency spectrum from 30 GHz to 300 GHz. They’re found in the spectrum between microwaves (1 GHz to 30 GHz) and infrared (IR) waves, which is sometimes known as extremely high frequency (EHF). The wavelength (λ) is in the 1-mm to 10-mm range.

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“This is the first taste of the mobile 5G era,” said Andre Fuetsch, president, AT&T Labs and chief technology officer. “Being first, you can expect us to evolve very quickly. It’s early on the 5G journey and we’re ready to learn fast and continually iterate in the months ahead.”

In the first half of 2019 AT&T plans to deploy mobile 5G in parts of these 7 additional cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.  The company says that as the 5G ecosystem evolves customers will see enhancements in coverage, speeds and devices.

“As the ecosystem evolves, this technology will ultimately change the way we live and conduct business,” said Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer, AT&T Business. “We expect that our initial adopters will be innovative, growing businesses. They’re the starting point for what we think will be a technology revolution like we’ve never seen before.”

“Today’s news is a seminal moment in the advancement of mobile 5G technology,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T mobility and entertainment, in a statement. “This proves we are well on our way to the promise of mobile 5G for consumers.”

Early adopters will only have one choice of end user equipment:  the NETGEAR® Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot (aka “a puck”) on the mobile 5G+ network. AT&Ts 5G service will start out in dense urban areas.  Through an initial offer, AT&T says they will deliver select businesses and consumers their first mobile 5G device plus 5G data usage at no cost for at least 90 days. Next spring, customers will be able to get the Nighthawk for $499 upfront and 15GB of data for $70 a month on a compatible plan and no annual commitment [2].   

AT&T said its hot spot and the data it uses will be free for subscribers in the first 90 days of the rollout. After that period, the device will sell for $499 with a 15-gigabyte data plan priced at $70 per month—a rate slightly cheaper per-datum than the 10-GB for $50 it offers with 4G LTE hotspots.

An AT&T spokesperson said businesses and customers in the initial rollout areas can express interest in joining the early phase of the network on the company’s website. The spokesperson also said the network should eventually reach theoretical peak speeds of 979 megabits per second, but actual average rates will be lower.

In December, AT&T announced two 5G-capable smartphones for 2019. A Samsung-branded 5G smartphone operating on AT&Ts mmWave is will be released in the spring of 2019. Toward the end of 2019, AT&T will release another Samsung 5G smartphone with multi-frequency band support.  None of those devices will meet the still uncompleted IMT 2020 standard for mobile 5G (see Closing Comments below).

 Note 2. The NETGEAR Nighthawk device will require a 5G compatible AT&T data plan. Device availability and 5G+ coverage areas are limited.

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Expect to hear more about 5G soon at events like the big consumer electronics trade show CES in January in Las Vegas and MWC Barcelona (formerly the Mobile World Congress) in February in Spain. Wireless service providers including AT&T and Verizon are already talking up 5G. And device makers are previewing gadgets that will work with the technology.

Samsung recently demonstrated prototypes of 5G smartphones that are expected to operate on both Verizon and AT&T networks. Many other manufacturers are racing to follow suit, though Apple is not expected in the initial 5G wave. Analysts predict that iPhones with the new technology won’t arrive until 2020.

Qualcomm, the wireless chip maker, said it had demonstrated peak 5G download speeds of 4.5 gigabits/second, but predicts initial median speeds of about 1.4 gigabits/secon. That translates to roughly 20 times faster than the current 4G LTE experience, but is much lower than IMT 2020 objectives for peak and average bit rates.

The 5G speeds will be particularly noticeable in higher-quality streaming video.Downloading a typical movie at the median speeds cited by Qualcomm would take 17 seconds with 5G, compared with six minutes for 4G.

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From a previous IEEE Techblog post–AT&T’s 5G Roadmap (only mobile 5G was shown on Al Burke’s SCWS 2018 presentation – nothing on fixed 5G):

  • 2019:  5G NR access with LTE Core network and LTE Access (=signaling?).   The spectrum for AT&Ts initial mobile 5G rollout was not disclosed, but many believe it will be mmWave.
  • 2020-2022+:  5G NR access with 5G Core network (3GPP Release 16 SA or IMT 2020?); also LTE Core with LTE Access
  • 2019-2022+:  mmWave NR : Evolution to Ultra High Speed and lower latency
  • End of 2019-2022+: (unspecified time frame?), AT&T will provide sub 6 GHz 5G coverage in the U.S. speed and latency; dedicated & shared spectrum (LTE-NR-Coexistence)

When AT&T introduces its “5G” FWA residential service it will be based on LTE, according to Mr. Burke.  In answer to a question from this author during the Q&A session, he said it would start as LTE but then transition to 5G NR based FWA.  The spectrum to be used was not revealed by Mr. Burke, but it will likely be mmWave (like Verizon’s 5G Home).

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Author’s Closing Comments:

A claim we’ve heard before (by Ericsson and Vodafone), but don’t believe:  LTE network and terminal equipment will upgrade to 5G NR via “only a software upgrade.”As noted many times by this author and others,

AT&T has repeatedly stated they would roll out “standards based 5G” in 12 cities by the end of 2018 (they have only 3 weeks to fulfill that promise) and 19 cities in 2019.  Some of the cities identified by AT&T for the 2018 launch include Houston TX, Dallas TX, Atlanta TX, Waco TX, Charlotte NC, Raleigh NC, Oklahoma City OK, Jacksonville FL, Louisville, KY, New Orleans LA, Indianapolis IN, and San Antonio TX.

How long can AT&T claim their “5G” network is standards based when they only support 3GPP release 15 “5G NR” NSA access with a LTE core network and LTE signaling?  The ONLY 5G RAN/RIT standard is IMT 2020 which won’t be completed till the end of 2020.  AT&T knows this well because one of their representatives is the Chairman of ITU-R WP 5D where IMT 2020 is being standardized.

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References:

https://www.att.com/5g/

att.com/5Gnews

SCWS Americas: Verizon and AT&T 5G Roadmaps Differ on FWA vs mobile “5G”

https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/what-is-5g/

 

WSJ Interview with John Donovan: Inside AT&T’s Plan for 5G Technology

Wireless telcos are counting on 5G’s capabilities to broaden their customer base beyond phones to new machines like driverless cars and factory robots. AT&T executives are so enticed by the promise of mixed-reality goggles, which superimpose images in users’ field of vision, that they invested in visor maker Magic Leap to help develop a market for the devices (see below for details).

AT&T is in a race to launch 5G services faster than its rivals, though each is taking a different path to get there. Verizon Communications tried to get the jump on its competition with its own pre-5G (fixed wireless broadband) standard.  AT&T directed its research toward internationally recognized specifications (i.e. 3GPP which is not a standards organization)—hoping that doing so will make its service more adaptable as the technology matures.

The chief executive of AT&T’s communications division, John Donovan, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about AT&T’s plans for 5G, among other things. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

WSJ: There’s been a lot of talk about 5G technology. When it comes, what will it look like?

MR. DONOVAN: You’ll start to see handsets rolling out as early as the first quarter of 2019, but much more probably and in more volume when you start to look at the back half of ’19. Things will be compatible with not only 5G but also all of the prior generations. With nonstandards technology, [that kind of backward compatibility] is not typically the case. That’s why we didn’t waste too much time on the nonstandard version like some of our competitors.

WSJ: It sounds like there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. If you don’t know what consumers are going to want 5G service for, how do you know where to build the network first?

MR. DONOVAN: We think that the 5G network is going to be most impactful for most consumers and businesses based on specific use cases. One would be retail. With this 5G network, you’re going to be able to get centimeter-level accuracy on location. These potential use cases include recognizing consumers entering the store, alerting the concierge or manager to provide a personalized experience [and showing] product features on adjacent digital signage or scanning and displaying product features within the store app on the consumer’s mobile device. Those are the kinds of things we think are going to drive this, as opposed to saying, “Hey, I’ve got a phone and it’s faster, look at mine, it’s got this 5G tag up in the corner.”

An AT&T worker wires a development in Frisco, Texas, for future 5G service.

An AT&T worker wires a development in Frisco, Texas, for future 5G service. PHOTO: DEBRA HALE
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Research and Deployment:

Milestones in the evolution and rollout of 5G technology

Source: WSJ reporting

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We’ve made two announcements so far. One is in robotic manufacturing in Austin, Texas, with Samsung. And we have an exclusive for the Magic Leap mixed-reality goggles.

The speed of 5G means the next generation of goggles will be smaller, lighter and cheaper. When we did the announcement with Magic Leap, one of the things we announced is that DirecTV Now will be one of the apps available on the goggles. So, you put the goggles on and you can project four televisions onto the wall.

It’s mind-blowing to think about creating an 80-inch television from a set of goggles.

WSJ: When 5G comes to my cellphone, am I going to pay more for a plan?

MR. DONOVAN: That’s to be determined. I think that’s something that collectively the industry’s going to try to innovate around. When we went from megabits and text-message plans to unlimited in the 4G network, there wasn’t a lot of incremental revenue. But 4G dropped our costs dramatically, so it improved our margins.

With 5G, you can never call these things until you get into the marketplace. Most would say now that it’s going to carry a premium because it’s so superior in some of the things it can do. But that premium may be that you have three new devices in your home that have small connection fees, and not necessarily that you have an iPhone in your hand and the plan it’s on costs more.

WSJ: Looking back on past generations of wireless, as networks mature, it gets harder to tell the networks apart, at least in the consumer’s mind. How do you try to distinguish yourself from the other guys?

MR. DONOVAN: Generally, we’ve hit a point with networks that there’s “good enough.” The analogy I use is oxygen. You’ll notice if it’s not there. But if it is there, in its highest state it’s invisible. How do you make it visible? Your people. I love the idea when it’s about the people in the stores, the call centers, your sales rep. We’re more likely to win in a world differentiated around people than marginally differentiated by machines.

WSJ: Should the number of stores be growing? Do you think we need more places to buy phones?

MR. DONOVAN: Yes, but I don’t want to build a store that you have to go to. I want to go to where you already are. So, if you look at our retail growth this year, it’ll be in kiosks, pop-up stores and trucks. If you’re in a brand new [apartment] and you want to deal with fiber and a family plan and television, wouldn’t it be great if you had a pop-up store that’s in the lobby right near the leasing office, you can get all of that stuff done, and a year later the store is gone because the building’s leased up?

The future of retail is that you need to be where the people already are. The idea that you’re going to run a television commercial, have them get off the couch and go call an 800 number, or get off the couch and go to a store, is no longer the case.

If you take the wireless business, even up to three to five years ago, you could run a promotion on television and generate volume by people going to your store. Today, the customer’s perception is that’s an industry offer. They would never say, “That’s a T-Mobile offer, I’m going to go to the store and get it done.” They go from there to Google and they start searching. Or the other thing is they go entirely in social. So their friends say, “You know what, you need to switch to AT&T and here’s why.”

Those two things didn’t even exist five years ago from a standpoint of how we marketed.

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Mr. FitzGerald is a Wall Street Journal reporter in Washington. Emaildrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com.

Appeared in the October 30, 2018, WSJ print edition as ‘What’s Behind AT&T’s Plan for 5G Technology.’

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