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Advanced 5G Network Testing Begins This Year for Select DirecTV Now Customers

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AT&T announced Wednesday that it will begin testing its 5G network in select households in Austin, Texas early this year.

Trial customers in the Austin area will be able to stream DirecTV Now video on a variety of devices via fixed, 5G connections at several locations. The test will see how well the next-generation network can handle “heavy video traffic,” according to an AT&T press release. The trial should start sometime in the first half of 2017.

“We’re not waiting until the final standards are set to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G. We’re executing now,” said John Donovan, AT&T Chief Strategy Officer and Operations President. “5G’s promise of greater speed and overall network performance brings huge opportunities not only for video but in the Internet of Things, 4K video, augmented and virtual reality, smart home and cities, autonomous vehicles and much more.”

The next-gen technology is largely expected to provide speeds 10 to 100 times faster than current 4G networks. The “wireless millimeter wave technology” that 5G networks rely on can deliver theoretical speeds up to 10 gigabits per second — in lab testing, AT&T found that its proprietary 5G service hit speeds of up to 14 gigabits per second, CNN reported. The end result is much faster internet speeds for both streaming, and downloading files, movies and shows — but the possibilities of a network this fast are profound.

In addition to the household trials, the company also announced that it has partnered with Qualcomm Technologies and Ericsson for further broadband and mobile 5G testing in the second half of the year, Reuters reported. And households aren’t the only ones getting 5G service in Austin — in December, AT&T said that it has teamed up with Intel to provide a “5G network experience” in one of their Texas offices.

The Austin trials are also looking to be a test of net neutrality, and not just next-gen wireless broadband. DirecTV was acquired by the wireless giant in 2015. AT&T’s networks are normally capped for users of unaffiliated third party services, in contrast to DirecTV customers — who currently can do unlimited streaming over AT&T’s networks. The FCC calls this “zero-rating,” and it says that it denies rivals from being able to fairly compete, according to Engadget.

AT&T isn’t the only company looking to make leaps in 5G wireless technology this year. Chief competitor Verizon has also laid out plans to conduct 5G testing this year. Google, which has long looked to fiber optic cables to bring high-speed internet to American cities, is now reportedly focusing on wireless internet connections, too.

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