Verizon’s fixed wireless access (FWA) rollout on LTE for rural areas is doing so well that the company has now made it available in parts of 48 states.
The company first rolled out its LTE Home Internet service in late July in just three areas. But Verizon has expanded it to cover rural parts of 189 markets in 48 states. It’s not currently available in Alaska or Vermont. Verizon didn't specify how many subscribers have signed up.
Verizon is touting the LTE Home Internet service as a benevolent move to help customers work and learn from school — a big necessity during the current Covid-19 health crisis.
LTE Home Internet is priced at $40 a month for Verizon wireless customers and $60 a month for non-Verizon wireless customers. Subscribers must buy the $240 home router and self-install it. Once they’re set up, they’ll get unlimited data with download speeds of about 25-50 Mbps.
“This summer, we introduced LTE Home Internet in select pilot markets, and the response from customers was incredible,” said Frank Boulben, SVP of Consumer Marketing and Products at Verizon, in a statement. “It’s clear the need for connectivity has never been greater during these challenging times, that’s why today, we’re expanding LTE Home Internet to even more customers in rural areas of America who may not have access to broadband Internet.”
Analyst Roger Entner with Recon Analytics said with this product Verizon will be competing against DSL subscribers in rural areas.
And analyst Jeff Moore with Wave7 Research said, “$40 per month is pretty affordable.” He said Verizon’s move is just one more indicator that the boundaries between wireless providers and wired providers are blurring.
“The cable companies and home internet providers were in one space, and wireless companies were in a completely different space,” said Moore. He noted that cable companies are already offering wireless service as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). And now, Verizon will be competing against rural broadband providers.
Entner said it makes perfect sense for Verizon to offer LTE Home Internet because the carrier has a lot of spectrum, and it can monetize that existing investment by providing broadband to rural homes. “All the capacity that you do not use at this current time is lost forever,” he said. “If they have excess capacity, they can fill it, they can make money off it. Telecom in wireless is a high fixed-cost, low variable-cost business. Once the equipment is in the ground or on the antenna, it’s pretty cheap to offer services.”
Politics and profits
Asked why Verizon didn’t do this ages ago, Entner cited the current political urgency. There’s always been bemoaning about the fact that rural areas in America don’t have good home internet coverage, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made broadband an imperative for all areas of the U.S.
Operators have typically cited the fact that it’s too expensive to run fiber to remote areas, and the cost of point-to-point FWA is high and not particularly appealing to the big wireless carriers.
But leveraging their LTE macro towers for a point-to-multipoint service pencils out a lot better in the business model. “Verizon is piggybacking these connections off their mobile network,” said Entner.
Plus, Verizon is charging a somewhat hefty one-time price of $240 for the customer premises equipment (CPE), so it’s probably not losing money on that. In an email to Fierce, a Verizon spokesperson said, “If your mobile device can see the LTE signal, this device will as well.”
Verizon is making subscribers install the CPE themselves, which saves the company the cost of a truck roll.
Verizon gets to “do-good” by providing a decent option for home broadband in rural areas, while at the same time maximizing revenue on its existing spectrum assets.
“They have an idle resource here where they can make money and make brownie points in Washington, too,” said Entner. “Opportunity came together with virtue here.”
Enter also noted that a couple years ago Verizon reorganized its business, and that could be making it easier to roll-out this LTE Home Internet service, too. He said previously Verizon had a division for landline services and a division for mobile services. But a product like FWA kind of crossed both divisions and made it confusing to know whose responsibility it was. Verizon under Hans Vestberg reorganized the company into a consumer division and a business division, solving the turf war for FWA.
FWA for T-Mobile, AT&T
T-Mobile is already on the trail of FWA for the home.
In August T-Mobile’s President of Technology Neville Ray said that the company has big ambitions to penetrate the home broadband business and become a supplier of broadband to rural America. T-Mobile plans to offer a 5G fixed wireless service to areas that are currently underserved. It plans to do that by using its 2.5 GHz spectrum that it acquired through its purchase of Sprint.
Matt Staneff, T-Mobile’s CMO, said in August that the company has realized during the Covid-19 pandemic that the home internet market is critical and that the companies that can provide fast home internet connectivity are winning.
T-Mobile has been eying the fixed wireless market for LTE as well. The company announced in July that it expanded a home internet pilot in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it offers FWA for $50 per month with no contract and no data caps and provides a home router for no extra cost.
We haven’t yet seen as much activity from AT&T in terms of FWA.
In January, AT&T said it had added 200 new cell sites to its 4G LTE network in Kentucky, and “the majority of the new macro towers also include equipment to enable Fixed Wireless Internet service.”
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.