AT&T has demonstrated use of a 39-GHz Nokia platform to deliver DirecTV Now streaming content over a fixed wireless connection. The test of the Nokia “AirScale” radio access platform took place at the AT&T Labs facility in Middletown, New Jersey. Though it is testing both 28-GHz and 39-GHz signal performance, AT&T now believes 39-GHz frequencies will be plentiful as an underpinning for gigabit internet access and video delivery.
The tests of pre-5G platforms in fixed modes is important for business model reasons, even if some do not believe fixed wireless will be so important for 5G revenues and apps. In fact, 5G fixed wireless might be quite significant.
Both AT&T and Verizon are testing use of pre-5G for fixed wireless purposes, important as a way for extending gigabit services without deploying new fiber-to-home infrastructure. With U.S. cable operators extending gigabit access to virtually every location over the next several years, fixed wireless might allow Verizon, AT&T and others to match such deployments faster, and at lower cost, than building brand-new fiber-to-home plant.
Also, since fixed wireless will build off of the network deployed to support mobile access, both AT&T and Verizon might find they can extend their fixed network footprint nearly nationwide, something neither has done so far.
Verizon will launch commercial pre-5G service for some customers in 11 markets throughout the United States, in the first half of 2017, in Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bernardsville (NJ), Brockton (MA ), Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
The services will provide fixed wireless gigabit internet access service, not pre-5G mobile service, and seem to be targeted at selected lead customers as well, perhaps several thousand or so sites, including homes and businesses.
Some will take issue with the “pre-5G” platform, or perhaps the immediate focus on fixed wireless. Aside from the fact that supplying fixed wireless is something Verizon can do today, rather than waiting for the full standards to be ratified, fixed wireless also is one of the new use cases and revenue drivers for early 5G, many believe.
"Ericsson's partnership with Verizon in rolling out 5G customer trials is accelerating the global 5G ecosystem," said "These end-to-end solutions are a key step for preparing Verizon's network for commercial deployment with different 5G scenarios and use cases," said Rima Qureshi, Ericsson North America region head.
It matters, and matters perhaps significantly, if fixed wireless piggybacking on the 5G mobile infrastructure also can support widespread and affordable gigabit access services. Depending on how well the initial business case works, Verizon might well be able to dramatically extend its fixed network footprint nationwide, from its northeast and mid-Atlantic footprint.
That would represent a major new opportunity for Verizon, which has a relatively-limited fixed network geography.