AT&T recently announced that it was offering 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) to business customers. But the carrier has been offering LTE FWA to business customers for almost two years.
Speaking at a FierceWireless 5G virtual event last week, Robert Boyanovsky, vice president of enterprise mobility at AT&T, said, “We’ve been at fixed wireless for probably a year and a half, two years now. Having good broadband connectivity to your business in a wireless footprint has been something that has resonated with our enterprises.”
AT&T positions its AT&T Wireless Broadband product as an alternative to a fiber connection. “It’s really easy to provision a wireless circuit nationwide with our nationwide coverage,” said Boyanovsky. “Your alternatives are going to be to work with fiber companies or other broadband companies and piece together various ISPs to deliver a kind of nationwide solution.”
For its 5G FWA, AT&T will use new fixed wireless routers from Sierra Wireless and Ericsson’s Cradlepoint, starting in April. For LTE, AT&T’s FWA offering can work with any AT&T certified modem. Whether 4G or 5G, the routers will be deployed in enterprise customers' facilities in their equipment racks with the rest of their telecom gear.
An AT&T blog that describes its 5G FWA said, “We can help provide better control and security through closed, dedicated tunnels to the mobile network that are not accessible by other devices. This creates more secure and reliable performance and user control, with no macro integration and strong over-the-air encryption (3GPP 5G standard).”
Boyanovsky said, “We built a product that really looked a whole lot like a fiber-based offering, using enterprise-grade routers as the connectivity to run their operations. It’s a wireless-centric solution using our existing LTE and 5G network with a fixed mindset if you will.”
Apparently, AT&T Wireless Broadband is particularly desirable for businesses that have many locations across a national footprint. “When you’re dealing with a retailer, for example, that may have thousands of locations it’s just really easy for them to deal with one supplier like AT&T to serve their entire deployment need across the country,” said Boyanovsky.
AT&T Wireless Broadband is also pitched as a backup connection for businesses that want some redundancy in case their wired connection suffers an outage.
The backup concept sounds a bit similar to software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN).
SD-WAN vendors have been pitching wireless as a part of their offerings for several years now. SD-WAN technology overlays software on top of various connections, whether they be MPLS, internet broadband or wireless. The software optimizes the WAN, choosing the best connection at any given time on a dynamic basis. And the various connections act as backups to each other.
Of course, AT&T also offers SD-WAN to its enterprise customers.
And Cradlepoint, which was purchased by Ericsson for $1 billion in November 2020, has been selling its gateways for SD-WAN systems for a number of years.
AT&T and private wireless
Private wireless got a big boost in the United States last summer when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned priority access licenses (PALs) for CBRS spectrum.
The mid-band spectrum can be used for a variety of purposes. But from the enterprise perspective, it can be used to set up private wireless networks at factories, schools, hospitals or other business locations.
AT&T did not purchase any CBRS PALs. But AT&T will set up private wireless networks for its enterprise customers that want one. Boyanovsky pointed out that there are big enterprises that purchased their own PALs. AT&T works with its vendors Nokia and Ericsson to resell their products for its private wireless offering.
“There’s a lot of questions, a lot of kicking the tires in the private wireless space, and we’ve got a professional services group that helps enterprises think through that,” said Boyanovsky. “We help them make these decisions because it is still nascent in this space right now.”