Thursday, January 31, 2019

Has AT&T Changed its Mind about 5G Fixed Wireless?

Over the last couple of years, AT&T has seemingly waned and waxed about commercial upside for 5G fixed wireless. For most of 2018, AT&T officials had expressed skepticism about the business model.

That thinking might have been based on use of millimeter wave frequencies. The ability to use spectrum in the 3.6-GHz region (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) should require less-dense cells and backhaul, and might also tip towards more business customer use cases, rather than consumer.

All that might have brought a change of views about use of fixed wireless.

“I will say over time three to five year time horizon unequivocally 5G will serve as a broadband, a fixed broadband replacement product,” says AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “I am very convinced that that will be the case.”

“You know, we back in the 90s everybody was saying wireless would never serve as a substitute for fixed line voice because there wasn't sufficient capacity,” Stephenson said. “Well it is a substitute for voice.”

Right now, AT&T says it has 11 million fiber to home locations and eight million business locations. AT&T also expects to reach 14 million consumer fiber-to-home locations soon. It probably is worth noting that AT&T’s fixed network passes--is able to sell services to--as many as 62 million U.S. homes.

In other words, AT&T might soon pass 22.5 percent of its consumer locations with optical fiber drops.

Even without quantifying the matter, if AT&T has managed to build optical fiber to less than a quarter of its U.S. homes, and also believes 5G will provide a workable substitute within three to five years, it is hard to see the logic of continuing to build consumer optical fiber connections, at a time when consumer fixed line accounts are shrinking overall.

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