AT&T's planned $1.6 billion buyout of Straight Path appears to me to raise some questions about the near future of 5G for the number two wireless provider in the US.
Let's break them down, shall we?
Will 39GHz become AT&T's 5G flavor for the near-future? This seems like a very strong possibility, simply because of the availability of suitable spectrum licenses for the operator. Taken in tandem, the acquisitions of FiberTower Corp. and Straight Path Communications Inc. will give AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) nationwide licenses for 39GHz, as well as 28GHz and 24GHz licenses in some cities. (See AT&T to Flash $1.6B for Straight Path 5G Spectrum.)
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), meanwhile, is focused on 28GHz for fixed 5G services -- using its own spec -- in 2018, mobile in 2020. (See Verizon Says Its Fixed 5G Will Arrive in 2018, Mobile in 2020.)
Will AT&T use 39GHz for fixed 5G tests and services? This also seems very probable. I can't find evidence of mobile 5G trials at 39GHz yet, which isn't to say they won't happen in the future. We do know, however, that AT&T has been testing streaming DirecTV at 39GHz with Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) in a broadband-to-the-home environment. (See AT&T Lab Tests DirecTV Now Over 5G.)
AT&T has so far said publicly that it intends to launch its first mobile 5G services based on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in 2018. (See AT&T Expects Mobile 5G Services in 'Late 2018'.)
What about the FCC's 5G auctions? In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it would open up nearly 11GHz of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum at 28Ghz, 37Ghz and 39Ghz for licensed 5G services. This should mean plentiful --- and likely inexpensive -- bandwidth for next-gen wireless in the US. (See FCC Comm. Names 4 Initial 5G Bands for US, Eyes More.)
Yet AT&T -- and Verizon -- have recently been paying big bucks for old short-range fixed wireless and microwave backhaul licenses, which can then be repurposed for 5G. (See 5G in US: Will Spectrum Be the Speed Bump? and 5G: Is Fixed Really In?)
It is most likely that the big two mobile operators are doing this because they can. Spending $1 billion to get licenses for early testing and 5G services will probably give AT&T and Verizon some commercial and marketing advantages over smaller rivals, even if the services start limited.
But AT&T and Verizon also get to hedge against any delays in the FCC opening up 5G spectrum. Since we haven't seen any scheduling for 5G auctions yet, it seems like money well spent.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading