BARCELONA -- MWC19 -- Both Verizon and AT&T are in various stages of using fixed wireless access technology to target small business customers.
AT&T is doing so today with a new nationwide offering using its LTE network, and plans to expand that into 5G at some point in the future, while Verizon is currently testing a version of its fixed wireless 5G Home service that's intended for business users, called 5G Office.
The actions highlight several trends in the wireless industry:
- Fixed wireless access is now suitable for business users as well as consumers.
- Both AT&T and Verizon are looking to expand their ISP offerings to small businesses in more locations.
- And both companies are working to challenge the likes of Comcast and Charter that currently sell Internet services to small and medium sized business customers in markets around the country.
"The use cases for this are fun," said Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer of AT&T Business, explaining that business customers can purchase AT&T's fixed wireless service offering as a secondary, backup line of Internet service if their primary line goes down, or they can use it as a quick way to get a new location online, such as a popup retail shop.
AT&T launched its new fixed wireless Internet service for businesses last month. The offering is available nationwide, and does not require any changes to AT&T's existing LTE network that's geared for mobility. Basically, the operator checks to see if it can support a fixed wireless Internet service in a new customer's small business location. If it can, then the customer installs a receiver on the building. Per the provider's site, AT&T offers speeds ranging from 8Mbit/s for $80 per month to 50Mbit/s for $200 per month, with additional features specifically for businesses.
AT&T's new fixed wireless Internet service for small businesses stems from the provider's existing fixed wireless Internet business for consumers in rural areas that it launched in 2017, largely to meet its federally mandated FCC Connect America Fund commitments to expand broadband in rural areas. AT&T has said it is on track to expand that effort, which works on its LTE network in WCS spectrum, to 1.1 million locations by 2020.
AT&T's Katibeh said that the operator's new fixed wireless Internet service for small businesses is different in that it is not rolling out as a separate network service, but rather can work on AT&T's existing LTE network for mobility.
He added that AT&T will be able to offer a 5G version of the service in the coming months as AT&T expands the buildout of its 5G network. AT&T has said it will offer 5G nationwide by early next year on its spectrum below 6GHz.
AT&T has made no secret of its interest in using wireless technology to supplant wired connections. For example, AT&T's CEO said on the operator's earnings call recently that he expects 5G to be a suitable wireless replacement for fixed broadband in three to five years.
But AT&T isn't alone in looking to parlay its consumer-focused experience in the fixed wireless Internet market into a play for small business customers. Tami Erwin, the head of Verizon's business efforts, said that Verizon is working on a version of its 5G Home service that will be targeted at small businesses, called 5G Office.
"There's no reason to believe that I couldn't go in with 5G fixed wireless as a broadband option, as opposed to Verizon Business Internet, which is coming off of my fiber," she said, explaining that Verizon continues to build out fiber to new locations. She said sometimes Verizon would offer fiber connections to small business customers, while other times it might use 5G to offer those connections.
"It just gives me options," she said of 5G Office. "At the end of the day I want the ability to provide a broadband offering to every business in America. If I can do it one way or the other, it's a simple way to get there," she said, explaining that it's easier to deploy a 5G connection than to bury a fiber line.
Erwin added that Verizon is currently testing a number of different pricing options for its 5G Office service, and likely will add additional services to the offering like security.
"If you think about where we compete today [in fiber], in the 13 Eastern states along the seaboard, I would tell you I think small business customers feel like they have a much more competitive offering in the marketplace because we're competing against the likes of Comcast and Charter," she said. "If you start to move West, there are less competitive offers in the market, and we find ourselves in a position potentially to be the insurgent in that market, as opposed to the incumbent in that market, which is an interesting place to be when you think about the ability to offer businesses something that they really want."
Verizon, of course, would be stemming from its 5G Home service with any offering for small businesses. Verizon launched 5G Home in four markets in October of last year, using its 28GHz spectrum to sell in-home broadband services to consumers for between $50 and $70 per month, and deliver speeds of least 300 Mbit/s. Similar to AT&T's fixed wireless service, Verizon technicians install receivers on the inside or outside of customers' homes (though Verizon executives continue to discuss potentially offering a service that customers would install themselves).
That AT&T and Verizon are both using fixed wireless to target small business is not a surprise. After all, both operators this week also announced plans to expand their SD-WAN services onto 5G.