While both Verizon and T-Mobile are forging ahead with fixed wireless access (FWA) deployments to bring broadband to suburban and rural areas, AT&T hasn’t made any big, similar FWA announcements.
Speaking at an Oppenheimer investor conference today, AT&T’s SVP of Wireless and Access Technology Igal Elbaz briefly mentioned the carrier’s FWA, which he said began as part of the government’s CAF 2 funding program. AT&T does point-to-point FWA in some rural areas.
Meanwhile, the Covid pandemic lit a fire under both T-Mobile and Verizon to deploy FWA on LTE nationwide, and they’re both beginning deployments of FWA on 5G, as well.
AT&T does have a rural FWA offering. It costs $50 per month and delivers speeds of about 10 Mbps. According to its website, AT&T will send an installer to set-up the necessary CPE for the service and to professionally install a mounted outdoor wireless antenna on the customer's home to transmit between a nearby LTE cell tower.
Pressed further about delivering broadband, Elbaz said there are different ways of serving broadband. One of them is via mmWave spectrum. “We just think the good use of our investment is actually to build mmWave on our RAN deployment,” he said. “Wherever we build small cells, we can use the same infrastructure to service mobility and wireless home internet.”
However, AT&T is focusing its mmWave deployments in dense urban areas or venues such as sports arenas, airports and campuses. So that isn’t likely to bring broadband to many rural areas.
Today AT&T announced that its 5G+ service is now available in parts of downtown Chicago. “5G+ is AT&T’s name for 5G service delivered using mmWave spectrum, which can deliver unprecedented performance, with download speeds of up to 1 Gbps, in high-traffic areas,” stated AT&T.
Elbaz was a lot more excited on the topic of the open radio access network (RAN). He said, “It means a huge opportunity for us. AT&T will deploy and implement open RAN.”
The carrier was one of the first five founding members of the O-RAN Alliance. “We have the intention to contribute and lead that effort,” said Elbaz.
He cited many of the usual reasons why open RAN is good, including fostering innovation and encouraging a wider ecosystem of vendors. He also said that open RAN promises cost savings because each vendor today comes with its own technology management system. But if the network were comprised of modules and interfaces based on open software, then the operator could run a common management system across the network.
Some operators of brownfield networks, most notably T-Mobile’s President of Technology Neville Ray, have said that open RAN isn’t ready for primetime, and he’s concerned there will be so many vendors that there’s no one to hold ultimately accountable.
Elbaz said, “There’s a perception that open RAN is only good for greenfield networks. I do not agree with that. I think established networks can take great adoption of open RAN.”
He said the O-RAN Alliance will bring a modular architecture that can be implemented into brownfield networks.
“We know very well how to build networks,” said Elbaz. “I believe at AT&T we have the expertise and knowledge to adopt open RAN. It’s not going to happen overnight. But we are absolutely interested and will be participating in that effort.”