AT&T, Verizon and now T-Mobile US all exploring 5G fixed wireless opportunity
Verizon’s initial go-to-market for 5G is residential broadband offering. AT&T made clear on an earnings call last week 5G as a viable alternative to fixed-line broadband. And now T-Mobile US is planning to test home broadband in the first-half of this year.
On a Q4 and full-year 2018 earnings call this week, T-Mobile US Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said initial home broadband pilots will use LTE but, particularly if the “Un-carrier” is able to merge with Sprint, sees 5G as potentially a disruptive force in the home broadband segment.
“In 2019 we are gonna begin piloting home broadband offers,” Sievert said. “They’re based on 4G LTE for some of this year; later it’ll move to 5G and it’s a pilot. You’re going to see us doing activity and it’s for a reason. We expect in New T-Mobile for this to be a substantial part of our growth story. We see the opportunity for millions of household. We intend to market home broadband service in 52% of U.S. zip codes.”
Sievert called out a median speed of 450 Mbps and called out home broadband as a space ripe for new entrants, noting that 48% of U.S. households “have no choice for home broadband.” He said investment in a mobile network would lay the groundwork for home broadband “without the extra burden of significant extra capital. “Most of our aspirations for that are in the context of New T-Mobile. It’s capacity dependent and home broadband is very, very consumptive.” i
Verizon’s 5G Home service is available in parts of four markets right now and that footprint may not expand until the second-half of 2019. The current deployment uses the carrier’s millimeter wave spectrum and is based on the Verizon Technical Forum standard rather than the 3GPP’s 5G New Radio standard. While it plans to upgrade to 5G NR, Verizon noted that chipset vendors are currently focused on supporting launches of handsets rather than the CPEs needed for an in-home, fixed service.
AT&T has a mobile 5G NR network available in parts of 12 markets with a mobile hot spot as the launch device. Last week on an earnings call, CEO Randall Stephenson described 5G as a viable replacement to fixed broadband service.
Stephenson recalled how in the 1990s there was skepticism that wireless could serve as a substitution for fixed line voice. “I have little doubt that in the three to five year time horizon you’ll see substitution” of 5G for fixed line broadband. He added that businesses can essentially use 5G as a local area network leveraging a “wireless plug and play environment. This will play itself out that way.”
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