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Verizon Wireless, America’s largest wireless services provider, beat everyone else in field-testing 5G WiFi. Its closest competitor, AT&T, isn’t far behind.

On Monday, AT&T stated in a blog post that, having tested 5G WiFi in the laboratory, it is beginning to test it in the field in Austin, Texas. Intel and Ericsson are working with AT&T in the test, and the 5G wireless technology is already working in one of Intel’s Austin offices.

The experiment is on schedule. Early in 2016, AT&T said it would field test a 5G system in Austin before the end of the year. The telecom giant said it was especially interested in learning how the network will handle 4K video, but will also test commercial applications including virtual private networks (VPN), VoIP voice communication, and “unified communications applications”. AT&T did not explain the latter. We are guessing it means virtual reality, augmented reality,  or video teleconferencing.

All parties have concentrated particularly on 4K, given the importance of video to mobile users.

In addition to WiFi, AT&T is testing a 5G fixed internet system in Austin. It would function like a home internet connection.

Like Verizon’s 5G network, AT&T’s is built on a millimeter-wave system. Millimeter-wave spectrum is a large band (24 to 100 GHz) between the microwave and infrared bands. Millimeter-wave signals can be compromised by weather, and they don’t penetrate buildings, but AT&T and Verizon claim to have found ways around these limitations.

The 5G standard is expected to enable blistering data speeds- up to 10 gigabits per second. This would be 10 times the speed of AT&T GigaPower and Google Fiber, the fastest residential internet platforms on the market now.

This doesn’t mean we’ll see 5G WiFi soon. The standard for defining 5G hasn’t been determined yet. And if the past is any guide, settling on a definition is likely to be contentious. In 2010 and 2011, WiFi providers argued strenuously over the definition of 4G.

We may first see consumer 5G wireless as soon as 2018, or as late as 2020.


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