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AT&T said this week is it now eyeing launch dates for standards-based mobile 5G as soon as the end of next year.

The announcement from the company follows action by 3GPP last week toaccelerate its timeline for release of 5G New Radio specifications by six months. The standards group – backed by a coalition of more than 40 industry players – added a new milestone in its 5G NR specification process that will see the release of a Non-Standalone (NSA) enhanced mobile broadband configuration by December 2017, with finalization of those specs expected by March 2018.

While the likes of Qualcomm and 3GPP touted the decision as enabling deployments as soon as early 2019, it seems AT&T has set the bar even higher with a late 2018 target.

“2018 won’t be a moment too soon. People are data hungry,” Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and company CTO, wrote in a blog post. “5G will be a critical part of staying ahead of that demand. While there are many elements to this new technology, the big news here is that you can expect to see the first standards-based mobile 5G services in 2 years or less. We’re excited to see what 5G means for augmented reality/virtual reality, video delivery, self-driving cars, healthcare and more.”

According to Fuetsch, AT&T is already working with 3GPP to determine how to start with the non-standalone deployment option and evolve its network to standalone down the line. That, he said, will be part of the carrier's Network 3.0 Indigo platform initiative running on AT&T's Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) implementation.

But AT&T doesn't just have its eye on mobile deployments – Fuetsche noted the NSA standards can be used for both mobile and fixed wireless 5G.

Already, AT&T has launched a 5G fixed wireless business customer trial with Intel in Austin. Fuetsche said the carrier has plans this year to expand its trials related to providing new mobile-first video services, with a second trial in Austin already lined up. That trial will allow residential customers and some business customers to stream DirecTV Now as well as access “next-gen entertainment and enhanced broadband services,” he said.

AT&T will undoubtedly be up against staunch competition from rival Verizon, which has been pushing toward early 5G deployments for some time. The carrier recently announced the launch of fixed wireless 5G trials in 11 cities across the country. Those trials are expected to run through at least June, with potential quarterly extensions through the end of the year.

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