Optical/IP Networks

AT&T: WiMax Is Top Candidate for Rural Broadband

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is considering expanding its WiMax footprint beyond the frozen wastes of Alaska as the rising cost of copper starts to make DSL deployments prohibitively expensive in rural areas of the U.S.

The carrier's CTO, John Donovan, tells USA Today that WiMax is “at the top of the list” as an alternative technology to copper for the operator. He added that the carrier is also considering cellular femtocells -- tiny base stations that extend the speed and coverage of wireless signals in the home -- as the way to get cheaper broadband faster to country folk.

Unstrung exclusively reported in September that AT&T could deploy fixed WiMax in some Southern states as early as this year. (See AT&T WiMax Heading South? and How Close Is AT&T to WiMax?) The operator acquired 2.3 GHz spectrum that would be suitable for WiMax deployments when it bought BellSouth. AT&T presently holds 22 2.3 GHz licenses in the South.

AT&T already has a limited deployment of WiMax technology in Alaska. The operator is using 2.3 GHz equipment from Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) for those networks. The operator is also said to be looking at extending the WiMax specification for improved video performance. (See AT&T: Broadband in Alaska.)

In fact, AT&T has never put down WiMax as a potential replacement for wired broadband technology. The operator, however, favors long-term evolution (LTE) technology for mobile broadband deployments. (See AT&T 's Road to 4G.)

Nonetheless, if AT&T does choose to deploy fixed WiMax as a DSL alternative, that may help to explain its sudden recent interest in the approval process for the Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)-Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) deal. (See Sprint, Clearwire Create $14.5B WiMax Giant.) AT&T argued last week that it believes that if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were to include Sprint and Clearwire's non-operational spectrum, then the proposed merger would be subject to more scrutiny, and therefore, the initial application should be denied. (See AT&T Looks to Block Sprint/Clearwire Merger.)

Clearwire and Sprint hold the vast majority of available 2.5 GHz licenses in the U.S. In fact, AT&T actually sold Clearwire all of its 2.5 GHz holdings back in February 2007 for $300 million. (See AT&T Sells Spectrum to Clearwire.)

If it wants to expand WiMax beyond Alaska and some Southern states, however, AT&T will need more spectrum. Potentially it could use some of the 700 MHz spectrum it won at auction earlier this year. AT&T's 700 MHz holdings are definitely a finite resource, though, and one that may be more suitable for mobile broadband deployments, because it will allow signals to travel further and penetrate buildings more easily. (See WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch Ahead.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

wap545 12/5/2012 | 3:35:21 PM
re: AT&T: WiMax Is Top Candidate for Rural Broadband As I mentioned before on this Web site a few months ago, I think AT&T may very well leverage their assets in both 700Mhz and AWS to deliver a serious Broadband Wireless DataCentric (Data/Video and VoiceIP) Network using WiMAX (802.16e)systems to beat Verizon Wireless to the market. It still has a major effort underway in upgrading its HSDPA networks over the next 3-5 years. It needs an interim solution to deal with VW and CLearwire.
They have the spectrum (12 to 20+MHz of 700MHz and 20+ MHZ in AWS), towers, back office etc to deliver these services near term.
The 2.3GHz SE strategy does not really give them any differentiator and will be at best a me-to to Clearwires 2.5Ghz network.
Other Option: WiMAX and AWS (1700MHz and 2100MHZ) will be an interesting play as well, as long as they (AT&T) can get select vendors (and the Forum)to address the FDD needs of this spectrum in WiMAX. The Canadian AWS (1700-2100MHz)auction last month may help in focusing this effort as well.
Will be interesting.

Jim A
lrmobile_kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 3:34:50 PM
re: AT&T: WiMax Is Top Candidate for Rural Broadband The recogniton by AT&T of the utility of WiMAX for coverage of large areas of thinly populated rural areas in fact highlights only one of the reasons whay obile WiMAX is being widely deployed in various parts of the world. Mobile WiMAX, once provisioned can provide not only the voice services but also the most advanced video streaming and broadbandwireless access services while preserving the QoS. This makes it unique as a low cost technology, which at present has no parallel.

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