AT&T sees private wireless replacing some DAS with big economic benefits

LAS VEGAS — AT&T was the only one of the three major U.S. carriers that did not purchase any priority access licenses (PALs) in the CBRS Auction in September 2020. And CBRS has been the impetus for a boom in private wireless networking in the U.S.

But despite not buying any CBRS licenses, AT&T is now very bullish on private wireless. J.R. Wilson, vice president of Tower Strategy & Roaming with AT&T, sees private wireless networking as the next big thing for in-building connectivity.

AT MWC Americas this week Fierce Wireless asked if private wireless would cannibalize AT&T’s distributed antenna systems (DAS) business. Wilson said he sees nothing but great opportunity with private wireless. “I think it’s a whole new life. I think the big difference is the carrier is not going to be funding it like we funded DAS.”

Apparently in the past, wireless carriers footed the bill for some large DAS installations at places such as major airports.

Recently, AT&T has been active with some private wireless vendors. For instance, last week AT&T and T-Mobile both acknowledged they were working with the private wireless developer InfiniG to support a private wireless offering that uses general authorized access CBRS spectrum. InfiniG is optimistic that Verizon will also join the party. 

AT&T is also working closely with JMA Wireless, a company well known for its DAS expertise.

Wilson said if JMA builds a private network in a hotel, for example, there is going to have to be some integration with AT&T in order for AT&T customers to use the service. “When they build, they want all three [major carriers],” he said.

Wilson said in-building private wireless is a huge opportunity. Beyond the large enterprise business with stadiums and arenas and airports, there are so many tier-2 opportunities with hospitals, casinos, hotels and the like.

“There is a very long tail in the industry,” he said. “There is millions of square-footage of space that’s underserved.”

And he added that there are now enough CBRS-enabled devices that companies are ready to make the investment in a private wireless network. "The requests we’re seeing to support private networks is getting long,” said Wilson.