Getting a Taste of the Newest 5G Flavor with AT&T Leader Todd Zeiler

AT&T Blog Team
January 5, 2023
Innovation and Technology


Getting a Taste of the Newest 5G Flavor with AT&T Leader Todd Zeiler

When you walk into an ice cream shop, what’s your favorite flavor? Maybe it’s rocky road, or maybe it’s cookie dough. What about when you walk into an AT&T Store or login to your AT&T account? We offer 3 flavors of 5G1, which helps enable our network to reach its full potential.

You may already be familiar with AT&T 5G that uses low-band spectrum, offering fast speeds and reaching more than 285 million people in more than 22,000 cities and towns in the U.S. You may also be familiar with AT&T 5G+ which uses high-band (millimeter wave) spectrum to deliver more capacity and unprecedented performance in high traffic areas including parts of more than 50 cities and more than 50 stadiums and venues nationwide.

AT&T 5G+ also introduced mid-band spectrum in limited parts of 8 metros in January 2022 and now reaches more than 50. AT&T’s mid-band spectrum is delivered two ways, using C-Band and 3.45 GHz band. This spectrum helps fill the gap between the high and low bands by traveling farther than high-band 5G+ and better reliability, capacity and consistency than the lower bands alone.

And we’re offering these different flavors of 5G in a way that’s simple for our customers and communities to get connected.  What’s more, we have already surpassed our 2022 end-of-year target by covering 100 million people with mid-band 5G spectrum and expect to report nearly double our original projection for 2022 year-end.

To further explain the newest flavor of AT&T 5G, we spoke with Todd Zeiler, Vice President Wireless Engineering at AT&T.

You’ve had a front row seat to many technological evolutions on our network. Can you describe how your career and technology have evolved together over time? 

Yes, and my front row seat is starting to splinter given my journey in the telecom field started over 30 years ago.  I have been fortunate to watch the evolution of our technologies, starting my career focused on fiber engineering followed by 27 years of wireless.  I remember when we were so excited to launch 2G for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Over 25 years later, we’re in a new era of 5G.  It seems like just yesterday we were trying to find a place to test and launch 5G, hanging out at the Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco, TX – that was 2017. Our “Magnolia Market 5G splash” utilized technology called 5G+ millimeter wave (mmW) – or high-band 5G – which we use today to connect people in more than 50 cities and more than 50 stadiums and venues.

Now, 5 years later and we are busy complementing our high-band 5G+ with another crucial layer in the story, 5G+ mid-band (using C-Band and 3.45GHz spectrum). With our mid-band holdings, AT&T will nearly double the amount of capable capacity – our oxygen – we acquired for the legacy 4G (and earlier) networks.

Since C-Band and other mid-band spectrum is a huge focus for you and your team now, can you talk to us about how C-Band fits into AT&T’s 5G story?

Building a wireless network is like building a house. You must have a sturdy foundation, or everything else will be off kilter. Our lower spectrum bands (<3GHz) serve as that foundational coverage layer – like the slab of the house and first floor living space. As we build out the next floor with our new spectrum, this serves as our launch pad to new horizons.

As we think about our 5G house, mmWave is analogous to the game room upstairs we built first, providing extra room for when all the neighborhood kids came over to hang out. The room does not cover a large area, but, when you are inside, it has everything you need for great games and connectivity.

So, we have a durable foundation and first floor of our house, plus the fun bonus room upstairs providing a 5G+ experience. However, something was missing. That is where our 5G+ mid-band comes into play – it’s the ideal answer to an ongoing challenge: Our wireless family is growing, and we need to build out the second floor for more space (capacity, coverage and reach) in the house. By finishing out the 5G+ mid-band second floor we are providing space for our ever-growing wireless family while enabling new opportunities for our family when hanging out in the house.

What are some of the biggest benefits to this latest flavor of 5G? Can you give us an example of C-Band in action?

One clear benefit is we now have a bigger house, so everyone wins. Our 4G LTE customers have more room to breathe and can move around the house more easily. Our upgraded, new 5G customers immediately get the benefit of more capacity throughout the entire wireless house.

Essentially, this new layer of oxygen (spectrum) allows everyone to be more comfortable and to live-work-play harder.

What does that look like? As the average wireless subscriber is consuming 11% more Gigabytes per month than in 2021,2 they simply need more capacity in more places. 5G+ mid-band is a blend of both speed, capacity, and reach. It provides the coverage we need with the capacity the customers are demanding for anything from their social media interaction to telehealth visits to head-to-head gaming. To learn more about some of 5G use cases: Furthering Capabilities Across Industries with AT&T 5G – AT&T Connects (attconnects.com)

It seems like there is a lot to balance in trying to predict use cases for the future and ensure we meet customer’s demands. What are some of the crucial things we need for a successful deployment?

Great question. If you think about a wireless network, practically, it is a wireless on-ramp to a long complex interstate system of fiber that connects to another complex system of routers and switches (core network) which ultimately routes you on to your final destination (content). AT&T is fortunate to have a solid fiber interstate which is the backbone of our wireless on-ramps. As we build our fiber to the edges – think rural and underserved areas – we’re also expanding our wireless on-ramps (5G network) to give as many people as possible access to the content they desire.

And, this is not easy. We want to be the best connectivity provider today and in the future. To do that, we can never stand still and it takes a village internally across our network organization – our wireless, device, transport (backhaul) and core teams.

We’ll keep deploying our network where our customers live, work and play and with a focus on providing a consistent mobility experience in those areas and the locations in between. We’re methodically engineering and building the infrastructure of now and the future, designed around delivering customers the best experience possible with fast, reliable, and secure 5G to consumers, businesses and first responders.

And, to shape our 5G network for tomorrow’s use cases means delivering fast, reliable and secure service with minimal lag powered through capabilities such as edge computing, network slicing, enhanced security, private networks and massive Internet of Things (IoT). We do this by constantly layering in new technology – it began at The Silos in Waco with innovative, high-band (mmWave) technology, followed by nationwide 5G deployment using our solid low-band spectrum portfolio.

And now we are actively layering in 5G+ mid-band spectrum to equip networks for customer demand and future use cases. Whatever they might be, our network will be ready for it. We will continue to provide that consistent experience our customers expect and depend on.

1 To experience AT&T 5G+, you’ll need to be in a 5G+ coverage area, have a 5G+ capable device, and be on one of our plans that include 5G and 5G+ access at no extra charge. See att.com/unlimited for more details.

2 Broadband Insights Report (OVBI) | Open Vault (2022)