AT&T has announced a partnership with Boingo Wireless to bring high-speed mmWave 5G – which it calls 5G Plus – to more U.S. airports. The goal is to have seven by the end of the year and 25 by the end of 2022. first deployment at Tampa International Airport earlier this year. However, there is a small catch; passengers will only find 5G Plus in certain areas of the airport, such as large gates and access areas. Still, it’s one place where distance-limited but powerful mmWave can really make sense. When else do you have to download the entire movie while waiting for your bar?
Boingo is known for providing Wi-Fi service to air passengers, but the introduction of AT&T is not a 5G branded product. Any AT&T subscriber with the right phone and a 5G contract can automatically connect to the network. Let me remind you that not all 5G phones include mmWave support; The iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 series do, but it’s rarer among mid-range and budget devices. And AT&T isn’t the only one working with Boingo on Airport 5G: Verizon announced its own partnership in 2019, and currently offers its fastest 5G flavor at a dozen airports, including Tampa International.
Bringing the MmWave 5G from the outside to the interior poses unique challenges: the higher frequencies it uses provide tremendous capacity and speed, but don’t travel far and are easily stopped by walls, windows and other obstacles. However, according to Mo Kabiteh, AT & T’s director of network infrastructure, the focus is on deployment indoors high traffic indoors is in many ways easier than bringing mmWave to an outdoor location such as a block. Working with a single building owner is usually easier than with many building and land owners renting space for equipment, for example.
Kabiteh sees such strategic 5G Plus installations as an important part of its overall 5G strategy in the coming years. Talking Limit, he stressed that the company has first focused on expanding its 5G coverage nationwide by using mmWave technology to dense urban areas and places that he says are “where 5G plus really shines”. Verizon, on the other hand, put more emphasis on mmWave 5G at an early stage, which has not put very well; according to Open Signal, Verizon users in the past 90 days spent less than 1% of their time on mmWave.
AT&T still has a lot to prove with its 5G network after a rocky beginning. To this end, the company today made a number of other partnership announcements that focused primarily on entertainment and augmented reality applications. The company has introduced interactive AR Space Jam characters, please partnership with Facebook Reality Labs, and it works adds AR capabilities to a WNBA application, among other things. While potentially useful and sensible 5G developments are underway, 5G hype machine has certainly not gone anywhere.