AT&T said it will deploy fixed wireless service beginning in late 2019 using spectrum in the CBRS band. AT&T CBRS fixed wireless deployments will target parts of “U.S. cities” where fiber cannot cost-effectively reach homes and businesses. In addition, a company spokesperson said the company will use the CBRS band for fixed wireless deployments. Those deployments are primarily in rural areas.
The carrier said it will use equipment from Samsung for its CBRS fixed wireless deployments, which will initially be based on LTE but later will use 5G. CommScope will provide the spectrum access system designed to make it possible for service providers to use the CBRS band on an unlicensed basis without interference.
AT&T CBRS Fixed Wireless
AT&T has been deploying fixed wireless in rural areas where it received funding from the FCC Connect America Fund to cover costs. Until now, that service has used licensed WCS spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band and had provided relatively low speeds in comparison with fiber — 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
Using LTE or 5G technology, the CBRS band potentially could support higher speeds. The spokesperson declined to reveal what speeds AT&T anticipates supporting for its CBRS band deployments, but those speeds likely will be higher than 10/1 Mbps. If the company expects to target metro areas, as today’s press release states, it will need to offer higher speeds to be competitive.
The carrier achieved gigabit speeds using fixed 5G wireless in trials last year, but those trials used millimeter wave spectrum, which can support higher speeds in comparison with the CBRS band.
The speed that a specific spectrum band can support also depends on the amount of spectrum available to the service provider within that band – and how much CBRS spectrum AT&T will have to work with is not yet known. The FCC plans to make a portion of the spectrum available on an unlicensed, shared basis and the plan to use the Commscope spectrum access system suggests AT&T expects to use that portion of the band.
The remainder of the CBRS band is targeted for auction and potentially AT&T could pick up additional CBRS spectrum in the auction, but the company may want to reserve any licensed CBRS spectrum it wins for mobile service.
5G Fixed Wireless
The revelation that AT&T plans to deploy fixed 5G wireless as part of its CBRS plans is somewhat surprising, as AT&T CFO John Stephens said in May that fixed 5G wireless economics were not attractive.
His concerns seemed to relate, in large part to backhaul costs, however – and it is possible that he was thinking primarily of millimeter wave fixed 5G wireless, which would require dense backhaul facilities to compensate for its short range. CBRS wouldn’t need such dense backhaul infrastructure because it has greater range, with the trade-off that speeds won’t be as high as for millimeter wave spectrum.