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5G

AT&T on track to cover 1.1M rural locations with fixed wireless LTE this year

AT&T's Igal Elbaz, SVP of the company's wireless technology operations, said that the operator today covers roughly 880,000 customer locations with its LTE fixed wireless technology. And he said AT&T expects to reach its previously announced goal of 1.1 million locations by the end of this year.

"We know that fixed wireless works," Elbaz said Thursday at an investor conference.

AT&T first disclosed its fixed wireless plans in 2017. The effort stems from AT&T's participation in the FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF-II) program. AT&T, Verizon and eight other telecom operators accepted a total of $1.5 billion in funding in 2015 with promises to build out Internet services in rural areas. AT&T is using LTE fixed wireless technology to meet its CAF II obligations.

Importantly, Frontier and CenturyLink warned earlier this year that they will not be able to meet all of their CAF II deployment targets.

AT&T's fixed wireless offering stretches across parts of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and elsewhere. The offering starts at $50 per month, a price tag that comes with plenty of caveats, and promises speeds of at least 10Mbit/s down and 1Mbit/s up, alongside average download speeds of 25Mbit/s. Customers are limited to 250GB per month of data, but can purchase additional 50GB chunks of data for $10, up to a maximum of $200 per month.

To receive service, customers must pay a $100 installation fee for an AT&T technician to install a receiver on the outside of their home or office, which then connects to an indoor Wi-Fi router.

Beyond rural areas
Interestingly, Elbaz hinted that AT&T could embark on a wider fixed wireless play, potentially using 5G network technology in suburban and urban areas.

"It's definitely on the roadmap," he said while dodging questions about when AT&T might launch such a service. "When it makes sense, we will offer fixed wireless."

Elbaz explained that the technology is mostly ready, but that offering such a service depends more on the economics. He said AT&T is building 5G mainly with an eye toward mobility, but could decide to offer fixed services from its network in locations where the economics make sense.

Indeed, that's exactly the strategy that Verizon is working to implement. The company launched its own 5G-based fixed wireless service, dubbed 5G Home, in four markets near the end of 2018. However, Verizon executives have said that the operator is waiting on higher-power chipsets from Qualcomm and new equipment that customers can install themselves before engaging in a broader rollout of the offering. That ought to happen by the end of this year.

Verizon's ambitions
In comments Thursday at another investor conference, Verizon's Ronan Dunne expressed optimism about the future of the operator's 5G Home service, including its ability to compete directly with wired offerings from cable providers.

"I think we can do really well in this space," he said.

Dunne pointed to three factors he said will aid Verizon's 5G Home rollout, which the operator has said it will expand to up to 30 million US households in the next 5-7 years:

  • Unlike most cable providers, Verizon won't bundle its Internet service with its own video offerings.
  • Verizon will offer customers plenty of bandwidth, including potentially symmetrical 1Gbit/s speeds on the download and upload.
  • And customers will be able to try the offering prior to buying it. "It gives you that confidence to buy," Dunne said of customers' ability to install their own equipment, likely indoors, before purchasing 5G Home.

Dunne said that, if Verizon had been able to sell 5G Home services during COVID-19 lockdown orders, "I would have made out like a bandit."

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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