As both AT&T and Verizon move closer to commercial launches of fixed wireless service based on initial 5G network standards, T-Mobile reiterated its wait-and-see approach toward offering its own fixed 5G services.
Indeed, a T-Mobile spokesperson today told FierceWireless that the carrier isn’t ruling out an eventual fixed wireless service at some point in the future, but said the operator doesn’t have any current plans for such an offering. The spokesperson said the carrier sees “so many more options for 5G” beyond fixed wireless internet service.
Those comments align with past statements from T-Mobile executives. For example, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray wrote in September that “Verizon’s grand vision is that you can cancel your fixed broadband and watch Netflix at home with wireless Verizon broadband. Double yawn. How disappointing! So little imagination from these supposed network leaders!”
In December, Ray offered additional commentary on the topic: “The carriers’ current vision for 5G is mind-numbingly limited. 5G’s potential is so much larger than replacing in-home broadband and IoT. But they can’t see beyond their own wallets. AT&T wants to ‘connect your world’—including your bank account—to AT&T. Verizon’s grand vision is that you Netflix at home with wireless Verizon broadband. How is that game changing?”
Indeed, both AT&T and Verizon are moving forward with plans to at least test and potentially commercially deploy fixed wireless services that would leverage initial 5G technologies (industry executives expect the 3GPP to finalize the initial standard for fixed 5G in the coming months). Verizon, for example, has already installed 5G equipment for fixed wireless services in more than 10 U.S. cities. However, the company acknowledged to FierceWireless earlier this month that its equipment may not align with the 3GPP’s initial standards for 5G wireless services, and therefore Verizon may have to upgrade its physical equipment at its sites in the 10 cities in order to ensure that its services work with the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standard.
AT&T for its part announced earlier this month that it would conduct a trial in Austin, Texas, with residential customers streaming DirecTV Now video service over a fixed wireless 5G connection starting in the first half of 2017. As part of the trial, AT&T will also test additional next-generation entertainment services over fixed 5G connections in an effort to further advance its learnings about 5G, especially in how fixed wireless millimeter wave (mmWave) technology handles heavy video traffic.
(To be clear though, this is one of several different trials AT&T is conducting into various fixed wireless technologies.)
The opportunity around fixed wireless, over 5G connections or otherwise, is clear: It would allow a provider to offer home internet services without having to deploy or operate cabling to a users’ physical location. For example, Verizon could install a 5G base station in a neighborhood and beam superfast internet connections over 5G to nearby residents with receivers, without having to deploy fiber connections—an expensive proposition—to those homes.
Moreover, Verizon and AT&T aren’t the only carriers chasing the fixed wireless opportunity. Google has been rumored to be investigating wireless technologies as a way to more broadly deploy its Google Fiber service; indeed, Google acquired fixed wireless provider Webpass last year. And startups like Starry and others are promising similar fixed offerings.
Part of T-Mobile’s aversion to fixed services may be due in part to its lack of fiber holdings. Verizon and AT&T own substantial fiber assets across the country, allowing the companies to keep their backhaul costs low. T-Mobile, meanwhile, must purchase fiber connections from other carriers. Such costs likely are a key aspect of any fixed wireless service since a fixed wireless offering would likely have to undercut the price of existing wired internet services from incumbent telco and cable service providers.