There’s a lot of talk going on about 5G technology being used in upcoming smartphones. Both Qualcomm and MediaTek are gearing up for its launch and have created 5G-compatible modems supporting mmWave, and we’re already hearing about phones that will support the technology. All that’s left to be figured out is how the carriers will implement the technology. Gordan Mansfield, AT&T Vice President of radio networks and design, shed some light on the current state of 5G and how it will work in the first compatible phones, at a talk at Mobile World Congress Americas. It doesn’t look good. In fact, it appears that the first 5G phones will all be carrier exclusives.
The issue is thanks to the fact that none of the carriers have figured out how to include all frequency bands on the same device yet. Verizon and T-Mobile use the 28GHz band while AT&T uses 39GHz. What’s more, T-Mobile’s will also be using the 600MHz band, so it won’t even be fully compatible with Verizon’s implementation. As such, the first phones will likely only work on the carrier they were launched on until carriers figure out how to fit it all on the same device in the future.
“As an industry, that will be very quickly overcome; I don’t think the single band introduction from the millimetre-wave point of view will last very long,” he said.
Because of this limitation, the first 5G device launched by AT&T will likely be a hotspot, Mansfield said. This is to keep the technology mobile, ensuring that even older devices can benefit. Mansfield gave no further information about it.
A higher frequency (in this case, 39GHz) allows AT&T the ability to use smaller cell sites and enable 5G support on smaller devices better than other carriers can. It’s going to be important for carriers to have a lot more cell towers, which increases costs as a result.
“When you take our entertainment assets and combine them with our wireless assets, we’re going to be able to do some pretty incredible things,” Mansfield said.