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US operator announces plans to launch 5G for mobile customers in 2018

US telecommunications colossus AT&T has seemingly trumped its major rivals Verizon and T-Mobile US by officially announcing that it will offer 5G services for its mobile customers in a dozen or so markets later this year.

In an official statement released by the operator it claimed that it was now in a position to press ahead with 5G sooner than expected after international standards were finalized by 3GPP last month. AT&T is one of the key drivers of standards acceleration in the last twelve months, and with the specifications now known, hardware, chipset and device manufacturers are now able to commence development.

AT&T declined not to get drawn into the specifics of the 5G mobile launch, opting not to name any of the dozen markets it is expected to deploy its 5G services in. However, it did declare that it would introduce 5G to the market by late 2018.

It remains unclear as to which devices will support and facilitate AT&T’s first mobile 5G launches. In October 2016, Qualcomm showcased its 5G-ready X50 chipset, but has said it didn’t expect to see 5G handsets become commercially available until 2019.

The announcement by AT&T has come as a surprise to the industry, as it appeared that all US operators were fixated solely on fixed-wireless 5G launches this year.

AT&T held fixed-wireless trials in a number of markets with plans to launch in 2018. Verizon also conducted trials of fixed-wireless 5G in 11 markets throughout 2017 and announced an aim to launch in up to five markets by the end of the year.

In October 2017, Verizon CFO Matt Ellis insisted that mobile 5G did not form part of the operators near term goals, stressing that 5G mobile services were certainly not a 2018 activity. However, this announcement by AT&T may force the operator to change tact.

President of technology and operations at AT&T, Melissa Arnoldi expressed her delight at the progress made by the operator in relation to 5G mobile services, and declared it accelerates the development of autonomous vehicles as well as enhances VR experiences.

She said, “5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more”.

In addition to offering 5G to consumers this year, AT&T said that it aims to trial the technology with businesses as part of its push towards enterprises. The company said it had also laid the groundwork for 5G in 23 major cities, including New York, Chicago and Atlanta.