Fixed Wireless: The Answer for Rural Broadband?

AT&T (NYSE:T) has been busily pushing forward with fixed wireless technology, recently announcing that it has made fixed wireless Internet service available to residents and businesses in nine new states. This brings ...

Things to watch at MWC: WiFi, 5G
Things to watch at MWC: WiFi, 5G

AT&T (NYSE:T) has been busily pushing forward with fixed wireless technology, recently announcing that it has made fixed wireless Internet service available to residents and businesses in nine new states. This brings the total number of states to 18, with a total of 160,000 locations. The plan is to increase this to 400,000 locations by the end of the year, and 1.1 million locations by 2020.

"This is part of our FCC Connect America Fund commitment," said Cheryl Choy, VP, wired voice and Internet products, AT&T. "We're deploying fixed wireless Internet service to unserved and underserved customers in FCC-identified census blocks across the 18 states we've accepted CAF II support in."

The fixed wireless solution delivers download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps to homes. The service is provided using standard LTE base stations running over a separate network from the company's mobility infrastructure. It uses separate tower antennas and spectrum.

"This separation keeps the one service from interfering with the other," Choy said.

A dedicated outdoor antenna is installed on the customer's chimney or roof, or alternatively is mounted on a pole, Choy said. While a satellite dish is aimed at a satellite, the outdoor antenna for fixed wireless is aimed toward a cell tower. The Ethernet cable goes from the outside antenna to the WiFi gateway inside the home.

"This is somewhat of a hybrid of terrestrial and wireless products newly combined to address the challenge of connectivity in more sparsely populated areas," Choy said.

In other words, the fixed wireless Internet is a wireless pathway to a fixed location. Fiber backhaul from rural cell towers is connected to the wireless network and Internet.

"From there, the service is wireless between a cell tower equipped with a separate fixed wireless Internet antenna and the customer premises," Choy said.

In other news, AT&T is currently conducting 5G trials over fixed wireless Internet in Austin, TX, and plans to expand to Waco, TX; Kalamazoo, MI, and South Bend, IN; by the end of the year.

The first trial in Austin was completed in 2016 and dealt with solely business customers. The current trial has expanded to include residential as well as small business and enterprise locations. It is using Ericsson's 5G RAN and the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform.

AT&T has said it expects the trial to provide speeds up to 1 Gbps using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. Despite the fact that 5G standards are still being finalized, AT&T says it is laying the foundation for 5G Evolution and plans to deliver state-of-the-art 5G speeds as early as late 2018.

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