COVID-19 traffic spikes haven't scared T-Mobile, Verizon away from fixed wireless

If executives from T-Mobile and Verizon are worried about 5G fixed wireless being able to withstand pandemic-levels of home Internet traffic, they certainly aren't showing it.

"It has not changed how we think about doing 5G Home and fixed wireless access. It has only reinforced that it is a great solution," Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said this week at an investor event. He was responding to a question about whether fixed wireless technologies could handle the dramatic increases in Internet traffic across wired networks sparked by COVID-19 lockdowns.

Executives at T-Mobile offered a similar outlook about their own fixed wireless plans.

"It's the highest capacity wireless network that's ever been built," T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said of T-Mobile's planned 5G network. In response to a similar question at an investor conference, he explained that T-Mobile's planned fixed wireless offering will be designed for "massive amounts of usage" in the range of terabytes per month. According to figures provided by major residential Internet providers like Comcast and Altice, Americans' monthly average home Internet usage was around 200-300GB per month, though that was prior to the pandemic.

However, Sievert argued that coronavirus Internet traffic levels will ultimately decline as stay-at-home orders relax. "An easy mistake in any business is to take the current and accidentally extrapolate it to the future," he explained. "The broad trends are very simple: All commerce and communications of all types are leaving their former linear formats and coming to the Internet, and the Internet is going mobile. ... The broad trend is toward eyeball-time toward mobile. And so we're in the right business."

Both Verizon and T-Mobile have ambitious plans to use 5G to offer fixed wireless Internet services across wide swathes of the US in a direct challenge to wired Internet providers like CenturyLink, Comcast and Charter. And both companies are already testing such services in a number of cities around the country.

Specifically, Verizon hopes to expand its 5G Home service to ten cities by the end of 2020, eventually expanding that to cover 30 million total US households over the next several years. T-Mobile, meantime, has said it plans to reach 10 million households by 2024 with its own in-home, fixed wireless broadband service, covering half of all US zip codes. There are roughly 120 million households in total across America.

Executives from both operators said that their fixed wireless offerings will rely on their existing mobile networks, and thus won't require any extra equipment. To receive the service, customers must purchase a receiver and install it on the outside or inside of their home or office.

"We'll be selling our excess supply" of capacity, Sievert said of T-Mobile's fixed wireless offering, explaining that the operator will only offer in-home broadband in locations where its network can handle such services. As a result, he said that the service has a "capital-free business model," funded by T-Mobile's existing mobile business, thereby allowing the operator to offer Internet services at competitive prices.

"We have learned a lot," Verizon's Vestberg said of the operator's five commercial 5G Home markets. "The quality and the uptime is extremely good."

"It's just right, in the timing of the market right now," he said of fixed wireless.

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

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