AT&T’s Partnership with the University of Tennessee, Installing a 5G Testbed Using mmWave Spectrum

For this vignette of a recent episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, Part of the 5G Factor series, analysts Shelly Kramer and Ron Westfall deliberate on why the AT&T partnership with the University of Tennessee is important to advancing mmWave technology development.

Their discussion covered:

  • AT&T is installing a 5G test bed using mmWave spectrum at the University of Tennessee as Knoxville, complementing ongoing partnerships with Texas A&M, University of Missouri, and University of Connecticut, that demonstrate mmWave capabilities for emerging applications.
  • How the partnership aligns with ongoing mmWave portfolio development work by key mobile players such as Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Rakuten, and Samsung.
  • The partnership’s role in enabling college personnel and students to experiment and validate mmWave capabilities across applications like ML. AR/VR, biometric data, distributed workforce, and rural environments.
  • How mmWave is integral to existing operator use cases and 5G monetization objectives such as 5G fixed wireless access, smart home bundles, and smart facilities.

Shelly and Ron view mmWave technology as ready for prime time 5G services, due to innovations like beamforming, and that the technology will play an integral role in the deployment of 5G capabilities across dense urban, FWA rural outreach, smart facilities, and AR/VR environments.

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Shelly Kramer: Since I was already on the topic of AT&T, I wanted to touch base on AT&T’s partnership with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. And I know that you are really focused on and excited about mmWave technology. And this is what that’s all about. So, this partnership at UT at Knoxville is AT&T’s installing a 5G testbed using mmWave spectrum. And I think that that is… What we’ve seen is lots of mmWave expansion over the course of this year alone. We’ve seen Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Rakuten, Samsung, and others talk about their efforts to support and expand this technology around the world. And that’s really exciting. What I loved about this story is just showing what is possible. A lot of these universities… We’ve got the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. AT&T has also partnered with the University of Missouri and a couple other ones.

I have it in front of me, and I just wrote about it today. And I forgot. I forgot who else they were partnering with. So, they’ve partnered with Texas A&M, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Missouri. And these partnerships were all about bringing private 5G networks to the universities. What this University of Tennessee partnership is about is really about this 5G testbed using mmWave spectrum. And what I think is particularly cool about this is a couple of things. One is some of these universities are located in more rural areas, so this kind of coverage, bringing this kind of coverage to their research facilities opens the door to opportunities that could impact the community, the country, and even the world because what you have is students being able to take advantage of and work on these advanced technologies, and experimenting with things like machine learning and biometric data and augmented reality and virtual reality.

And to experiment and learn… This is our next gen workforce, right? And they have the ability to experiment with and learn on this technology that would maybe otherwise be cost prohibitive due to where they’re located. So, I thought that that was a really cool expansion of AT&T’s partnerships with universities on those couple of fronts. I’m sure that you have thoughts on mmWave expansion coming to a city near you.

Ron Westfall: Right on. Yes. Now, millimeter wave technology is definitely something that is integral to 5G’s future. Verizon also is investing heavily in the technology. And, like our conversation, Shelly, about 5G connectivity on cars, there are still some misperceptions about millimeter wave technology.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Ron Westfall: It is high-frequency. It is typically implemented in the 24 gigahertz to 100 gigahertz range. So, people think, “Oh, well, that gives you a higher bandwidth, but distance is a trade-off”. And that is intrinsic, but what is not true is that it will just keep bouncing off walls. It will be difficult to control and manage. There’ve definitely been advances in, for example, beamforming technology to make millimeter wave technology more compatible to mainstream deployments. And, for example, I think AT&T leveraging the academic communities in places like Texas A&M down the road from me in College Station and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, which is a lovely, charming campus, reminds us that academia can play a key role in showing how we can even improve it more.

In addition, Verizon is betting on millimeter wave to enable, for example, their smart stadium offerings. That’s when you step into the stadium, you want that enhanced, immersive experience. That’s the technology that’s being used there. But, also it’ll play a role in what they’re calling their “smart home offering” so that they have a unified network architecture to meet both the fixed and the mobile needs of their customers so they’re not having to run a more expensive network. And the way that works is that you can offer obviously 5G mobility, but also 5G fixed wireless access off fundamentally the same architecture, using more backhaul capabilities for any home, smart home connectivity, et cetera. So, this is all, again, illustrating why millimeter wave is going to be essential for many of the plans of the major telcos, and that some of the naysayers are going to have to dial back their initial skepticism, which had some warrant. But, now it’s just a receding war.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.


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