5G and Beyond

AT&T taps into Frontier's fiber for 5G backhaul

AT&T and Frontier Communications have forged a new, expanded deal that will tie together each company's wireless and wired infrastructure and provide AT&T more fiber connectivity to help backhaul its 5G network.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the new pact paves the way for AT&T to deploy wireless infrastructure in Frontier central offices in areas where AT&T currently does not own fiber. More specifically, it gives AT&T clearance to use Frontier's fiber to connect AT&T cell towers located inside Frontier's network.

AT&T is the first tenant to rent space in Frontier's local central office facilities, they said.

(Source: Vittaya Sinlapasart/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: Vittaya Sinlapasart/Alamy Stock Photo)

The companies said the deal will enable AT&T to keep pace with the data demands being placed on its wireless networks.

The deal comes together as Frontier pushes ahead with a fiber upgrade and buildout plan. Frontier announced late last year that it had neared the halfway point toward a goal of reaching at least 10 million locations with fiber by the end of 2025. While a good portion of that work is focused on delivering services to Frontier's own residential and business customers, the agreement with AT&T highlights the buildout's wholesale opportunity.

And fiber could help spark a wholesale business that's been in decline. Frontier's overall business and wholesale revenues dropped 7.5% in Q3 2022 year-over-year, primarily due to declines in its copper footprint. Meanwhile, business and wholesale fiber revenues rose 1.1%, to $267 million, sequentially.

"As one of the largest fiber builders in the country, our fiber infrastructure offers an attractive opportunity for tech companies to use this future-proof foundation for their wireless services," Vishal Dixit, Frontier's chief strategy officer and EVP wholesale, said in a statement.

Today's infrastructure deal effectively extends an earlier one. In 2021, AT&T and Frontier notched a deal to bring fiber connectivity to large enterprise customers in areas outside AT&T's current fiber footprint. That multi-year agreement, focused on Frontier service territories in parts of 25 states, also mentioned support for deployment of AT&T's 5G network.

No MVNO pact

Today's expanded agreement tightens the ties between AT&T and Frontier, but it makes no mention of an MVNO partnership that would enable Frontier to bundle mobile services with broadband sometime down the road.

Frontier has previously stressed that it has no immediate plans to follow in the footsteps of cable operators such as Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications and add mobile service to its arsenal. However, Frontier, a company led by execs with loads of prior wireless experience at companies such as Vodafone, Verizon and AT&T, has left that door open.

"We're watching it very closely and if consumer behavior changes or if the market changes in a material way that impacts us such that moving some of our scarce capital to build or partner with an MVNO would be a smart thing to do, we'll do it and we'll do it very quickly," Frontier CEO Nick Jeffery said in November. "But now isn't the moment for us."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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