AT&T’s wireless local loop trials continue in 2 locations

BARCELONA, Spain—AT&T is currently conducting Wireless Local Loop (WLL) technology tests on its LTE network in two locations in the United States, part of the carrier’s ongoing efforts to evaluate a range of high-speed transmission technologies in order to determine how they stack up against each other.

John Donovan, AT&T's chief strategy officer and group president for technology and operations, explained that AT&T is testing a total of five different network technologies: G.Fast, AirGig, 5G, WLL and fiber to the premises (FTTP). To be clear, some of those efforts are further along than others; for example, AT&T has already deployed FTTP to roughly 4 million locations, a number AT&T’s CTO Andre Fuetsch said would triple during the next 36 months. “That’s obviously matured” as a technology, Fuetsch said.

But some of AT&T’s other efforts are very much in the testing phase. For example, AirGig is AT&T’s new take on broadband over powerline (BPL) technology, which promises to transmit internet communications over power grids. AT&T announced its AirGig effort last year, and is now entering advanced discussions with a number of electric utilities and other companies about trialing AirGig in up to two locations this fall.

And of course AT&T made waves last month when it announced it would launch its first “5G Evolution Markets” in the coming months in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, and it will build two new 5G test beds set to go on air this spring at the AT&T Labs in Austin.

But AT&T’s WLL tests are notable considering the company has been evaluating WLL since 1997 at least. According to a Wall Street Journal report from that year, AT&T was testing WLL in Chicago and potentially elsewhere.

Those tests appear to have continued; AT&T confirmed in 2015 that it was testing WLL technology in select areas of the country with local residents who want to try the service, including in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Virginia, and is seeing speeds of around 15 to 25 Mbps.

“It’s really about the economics,” Donovan said of AT&T’s various technology tests and deployments. “Which of the five [technologies] provide the best economics?”

Donovan noted that fiber has the clearest economics since it is already being deployed in millions of locations, while AirGig promises the best economics, if it proves to be viable, since it can run across existing power grids.

Donovan declined to provide details around AT&T’s ongoing WLL tests, including where they were being held.

Testing different technologies in tandem “gives us the best optionality,” Fuetsch noted.