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AT&T Still “Meh” on Fixed 5G Wireless; “We’re Focused on Mobility”

Phillip Dampier December 6, 2018 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

AT&T continues to gently discourage the media and investors from comparing its 5G strategy with that of its biggest competitor, Verizon, suggesting the two companies have different visions about where and how 5G and small cells will be deployed.

“We’ve done fixed wireless in our network on LTE as part of our Connect America Fund commitment from the government. We’ve been doing that for two years. And so we know the technology. We know it works, and it works for the purposes intended, which is real broadband,” said Scott Mair, president of operations at AT&T. “The challenge is the use case and the economics, right? So where does fixed wireless work? We’re focused on mobility.”

Mair echoes earlier sentiments from AT&T’s chief financial officer who has repeatedly told investors that AT&T sees fiber to the home service as a superior offering, and one economically within reach for the company in its urban and suburban service areas.

Speaking on Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Broker Conference Call, Mair did not rule out 5G residential fixed wireless service in certain expensive-to-reach areas, but it is clear AT&T’s priority will be to bolster its mobile network, not invade the home internet access marketplace. Mair noted AT&T will deploy small cells to power its 5G services, but primarily to resolve congestion issues in high wireless traffic areas.

“If we’re there, we build small cells primarily for capacity,” noted Mair, adding the company believes “the mobility use case is probably the right place to be spending our time and effort.”

AT&T plans to target its first fixed or short-range 5G services on its business customers.

“We see initially enterprise businesses as being the area where the entry will be first,” Mair said. “We’ve thought about partnering with a manufacturing firm, and I really believe that manufacturing is going to be a key capability. When you look at a factory floor, it’s real-time telemetry, real-time analytics. You have factories that now need to be more nimble than ever in terms of being able to reconfigure for product changes very quickly.”

AT&T is also continuing to aggressively expand its fiber footprint, including the prospect of constructing fiber networks outside of AT&T’s traditional landline service area. But the company stressed it is building fiber networks in new ways that will maximize the company’s Return On Investment.


“So with our fiber build-out, fiber underlies everything we do, whether it’s wireline or wireless. And so fiber matters,” Mair said. “By middle of next year, we’ll be at 14 million homes passed and because we also have a deep fiber footprint, we’ll have another eight million businesses that we pass. That gives us 22 million locations that we can sell fiber-based services.”

AT&T’s fiber network planning has become very sophisticated these days. The more customers sharing a fiber connection, the faster construction expenses will be paid off.

When a business client contacts AT&T to arrange for fiber service, the company used to run a dedicated fiber cable directly to the business. These days, AT&T attempts to maximize the potential use of that fiber cable by routing it through areas that have a high potential of generating additional business for the company or traffic on its network. For example, a fiber connection furnished for a business might also be used to serve multiple dwelling units, like apartment buildings or condos, or rerouted to also reach other businesses that can be sold fiber services.

“I’m passing two [AT&T] cell sites that I’m paying someone else transport and backhaul for, where I can now put it on my own network,” Mair offered as an example. “I know where I’m going to be building small cells in the future. We can plan out that. We know where we’re going to be. I can route that fiber. So now I’ve optimized the route.”

Currently there are 2 comments on this Article:

  1. Paul Houle says:

    I think AT&T is more interested in fixed wireless using low band spectrum in exurban areas. At
    my location Unlimitedville (AT&T) was able to get me about the same download speed I get with Frontier, but at a somewhat higher cost.

    If they could cut the cost in half and double the speed it would be nowhere near competitive with cable but would be a highly effective DSL killer. Put it together with satellite TV and maybe the DirectTV acquisition was a good idea after all.

    When it is so easy to eat the lunch of Centurylink, Frontier and other DSL providers it seems crazy to
    offer 5G service in urban areas where you would have to offer much greater speeds to compete with cable.

    There are two things about Los Angeles as a test market (which Verizon is using) that give me pause.

    Southern California has a unique situation for radio propagation that is much more favorable than most places. Although most of California is uninhabitable or uninhabited, it still has a population density greater than the average European country because of the densely populated coast. Put that together with “Ring of Fire” topography that lets a transmitter on a hill cover a wide area (yet not conflict with transmitters in other cities), VHF and UHF radio utilization is on a different level from any other place I’ve been. When I take my ham radio handheld out there I see the “crowded 900 MHz band” that people in the industry talk about. That band hardly seems crowded in Brooklyn, never mind upstate New York.

    The opposite situation prevails in the Northeast where towns are too spread out for television stations to cover all the towns well, but the towns are too close together to put in more towers to improve the coverage. Thus many cities in upstate New York aren’t properly served by the “big three” TV networks.

    Another angle is that New York and L.A. are cultural and financial centers where I think some companies deploy services to fool investors and media personalities. Back in the late 1990s you could go to most towns in the U.S. with 100,000 population and find a good espresso bar but you couldn’t in NYC because there were two Starbucks on every block and I think that Starbucks boosted their stock price that way because people in the finance biz couldn’t help but imagine the whole country was like that.

  2. EJ says:

    It makes sense to focus on wireless considering the government contract they have. The strange thing is they referenced fixed wireless in this article. Fixed wireless I would think is a different beast then 5G home service? We will see if they continue this tune as they lose DirectTV subscribers by the boat load.

    On another similar topic I think the merger of Sprint and T Mobile could be beneficial in that the government could require them to expand their 5G to higher percentage of the population and require them to develop affordable 5G Home Service with reasonable caps. Of course with this administration that probably won’t happen and even it did I am sure it would become New York 2.0.

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