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AT&T's recent push to broaden its partner pool for deploying 5G reflects a highly collaborative effort in preparing for the next-generation cellular technology poised to open new multibillion-dollar markets.
The U.S. carrier announced last week plans to speed up deployment of 5G technology by collaborating with networking vendors, carriers in other countries and mobile phone makers. AT&T plans to launch the fifth-generation wireless broadband after the standards body called the 3rd Generation Partnership Project releases the first specifications in 2018.
AT&T's approach to 5G differs from its largest U.S. rival, Verizon. The latter is taking a technology-led approach, apparent in the 5G Technology Forum Verizon formed last year. A half dozen of the eight members are networking technology providers.
"Verizon's approach to work with vendor engineering teams is fairly traditional," said Elisabeth Rainge, an analyst at IDC. "AT&Ts collaboration shows more of a business and customer-directed approach."
How the carriers build their 5G networks, which are expected to have speeds up to 1 Gbps, is important because of the effect it will have on providing cellular-based business and multimedia services. Also, 5G's spectral and signaling efficiency, as well as its greater coverage than today's 4G technology, will enable advancements such as pervasive computing and the internet of things (IoT).
"[The fourth generation] brought us some pretty major advances in connectivity, and so will the next generation," said Lee Doyle, an analyst at Doyle Research.
AT&T partner plans
AT&T hopes to partner with China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, KDDI, LG, Nokia, NTT DOCOMO Inc., Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Samsung, SK Telecom, Telstra and Vodafone. Preliminary discussions are underway between AT&T and the companies, the carrier said.
Hank Kafka, vice president of access, architecture and analytics at AT&T, said the carrier doesn't want a formal group like Verizon's. Rather, "there is a desire to be ready to deploy and have the capability to deploy as soon as we can," he said.
AT&T has shown a willingness to build technology jointly with other developers. This year, AT&T contributed to the open source community its software platform for delivering self-service network services to enterprises. AT&T developed the Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy platform to let customers buy, configure and deploy wide area network services, such as Ethernet connectivity and IP VPNs. Companies can also add ports, scale bandwidth and make other changes to existing services.
Verizon's IoT push
Verizon, on the other hand, is acquiring services expected to benefit from 5G technology. This month, the carrier agreed to buy fleet management company Fleetmatics Group PLC for $2.4 billion. Fleetmatics provides online software that fleet operators use to track vehicle location, fuel usage, speed and mileage. Verizon expects to close the deal in the fourth quarter.
Verizon made the Fleetmatics announcement three days after completing the acquisition of Telogis Inc., a provider of cloud-based IoT services for fleet management. The acquisitions are a significant move into the IoT market, which 5G will help drive by providing the cellular technology needed to grab state data from corporate equipment that isn't stationary, such as trucks, cars and construction gear.
U.S. revenues from hardware, software, services and connectivity related to IoT are expected to increase 16% every year from 2015 to 2019, when sales will reach $357 billion, according to IDC. The research firm expects manufacturing and transportation to be the leaders in IoT investments.
AT&T and Verizon are conducting field tests of 5G technology. AT&T won't say when it will roll out 5G services. Verizon expects to deploy 5G in Asian markets in 2017.
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