For AT&T, 5G Is a City Kitty, Not a Residential Fat Pipe

AT&T's mobile 5G -- which it expects to switch on late in 2018 -- will be directly aimed at dense, city blocks, rather than residential broadband offerings in the 'burbs, CFO John Stephens said Tuesday.

"We're going to be putting a lot of small cells in downtown urban areas," with mobile in 2019, Stephens told the financial analyst audience at the Oppenheimer 21st Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference, adding that he's "not sure that the costs justify residential" broadband.

The CFO's reasoning is that the operator has already deployed fiber that passes -- or is very close -- to 22 million residential and business customers now. So 5G updates could follow eventually, but "not right now." Stephens said.

This helps explain the distinction in 5G strategies between AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless . AT&T says it will launch mobile 5G in "parts" of 12 markets in the US in late 2018, while Verizon will switch on residential broadband in the second half of this year, with mobile in 2019. (See 5G in the USA: Where We at With Mobile?)

AT&T has said previously that it plans to deploy 5G in millimeter wave spectrum (around 30GHz to 300GHz), which explains the deployment plans, since AT&T's fixed mmWave tests have so far shown gigabit download speeds at up to 275 meters. (See Millimeter Wave 5G: The Usain Bolt of Wireless?)

Stephens, however, said that AT&T is also deploying "5G-ready" gear for Wireless Communications Service (WCS) and AWS-3 spectrum, along with its FirstNet public safety radios. The Advanced Wireless (AWS-3) band runs between two blocks of spectrum at 1695MHz to 2180MHz, while WCS 2.3GHz would be referred to as mid-band in the 5G world.

Stephens expects 5G on this spectrum to start late in 2018 through 2019, with a software upgrade. "It's going to be more difficult than just flipping a switch," the CFO warned.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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