A decision by the 3GPP standards body could accelerate the potential standards-based, commercial 5G deployments by several months, with scaled 5G rollouts for fixed and mobile happening within two years, an AT&T executive said this week.

Most industry analysts had projected that 5G deployments would not begin in earnest until 2020, but that changed when 3GPP—the standards body that oversees LTE and 5G technologies—chose to release the hardware and chip standards for 5G by the end of this year instead of the middle of 2018, according to Scott Mair, AT&T’s senior vice president of technology.  

“3GPP, earlier in this year—in March—took Release 15 [the first LTE that is considered to be 5G] that was scheduled for June of 2018 and made a decision to pull forward the hardware and chip standards that will be out by the end of 2017,” Mair said Monday at the Wells Fargo Securities 5G Forum, which was webcast, noting that hardware and chip development tends to create the longest delays in the deployment of a new standard.

“That then sets the stage for what will be early introduction of 5G in a commercial space—standards-based—which will be probably late 2018 or the first half of 2019 … Instead of scaling in 2020, we're going to start to see scaling in 2019, I think, in the commercial space. The standards work that's been done on that body is what has enabled that to happen, pulling forward the hardware and getting the standards for mobility and fixed in mid-June of 2018.”

An AT&T spokesman clarified that Mair’s references to “mobile” coverage align with the traditional telecommunication definition, meaning coverage for commercial handheld devices. In an LMR arena, “mobile” services provide coverage designed for radios within vehicles that typically operate at higher power and can leverage larger antennas than handheld devices.

In addition to the traditional fixed and mobile services, a second phase for Release 15 5G standard—one that is designed to meet the needs of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions—is scheduled to be released by the end of 2019, Mair said.

“That's going to be more focused on massive IoT—massive by about a million IoT devices in a square kilometer,” Mair said. “That's a lot of connected things, … as well as better latency characteristics, higher reliability, things that we're going to need for the other use cases that have been talked about, [including augmented reality, virtual reality,] autonomous cars—the standard will come [by the] end of 2019, but the mobility and fixed is key.

“So, it's three key dates: December 2017 for the hardware chipset manufacturers, June and July 2018 for mobile and fixed standards, and then end of 2019 for the massive IoT and other use cases. So, that gives us clarity around what's going to happening in 5G better than we've had.”