Why DirecTV Now Delivered Over a Fixed Wireless Connection Matters

AT&T says it will, in the first half of 2017, conduct a trial in Austin where residential customers can stream DirecTV Now video service over a fixed wireless 5G connection. You might think video is a logical app to test over a fixed wireless link, especially when using new millimeter wave spectrum. It is that, to be sure. But it is more.

The assumption is that if millimeter fixed wireless can handle video, it can handle anything a consumer wants to do, and therefore helps validate the use of fixed wireless for access connections, something AT&T already plans to do on an extensive basis, to serve rural customers.

Keep in mind that AT&T already can use DirecTV for linear TV delivery. DirecTV Now is different, as it is an on-demand service. And that means AT&T's networks have to support single, on-demand streams, rather than supplying what is essentially a multicast DirecTV feed.

The coming millimeter wave spectrum for 5G is very good in terms of bandwidth, not so good in terms of propagation distance. That is why most believe millimeter wave spectrum will work best in dense urban areas. But there always are ways to use beam-forming antennae and other techniques to boost output, and that is likely among the attributes AT&T will want to test.

AT&T expects to have deployed more than 400,000 active fixed wireless links by the end of 2017. By the end of 2020, AT&T plans to reach 1.1 million rural locations using fixed wireless. And most, if not all of those connections might use existing platforms and spectrum, not the new 5G platforms and spectrum, unless the new tests prove otherwise.

That is why the DirecTV Now over 5G tests in Austin are important. They will help validate the business case for using 5G in fixed mode, not only to deliver video, but to support gigabit internet access speeds.

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