AT&T and Frontier have signed a deal that will enable AT&T to deploy wireless infrastructure in Frontier central offices. The deal also calls for AT&T to purchase fiber connectivity to connect with cell towers that are in Frontier’s network.

Asked about the equipment that will go in the central offices, an AT&T spokesperson said, “We’ll strategically begin to centralize the cell site baseband units (controllers) where it makes sense to do so for operational efficiencies.”

Apparently, the Frontier central offices will be available for other network operators to use as well, as a Frontier press release notes that AT&T is the “first tenant to rent space in Frontier’s hyper-local offices.”

As telecom technology has evolved over the years, the amount of space needed to house everything in a typical carrier’s central office has decreased. AT&T has talked of repurposing its own central office (CO) infrastructure for several years.

The opening up of more space in the CO coincides nicely with the advent of 5G and edge computing. As wireless carriers look to support applications such as autonomous vehicles and virtual/augmented reality, low latency is becoming critical.

Standards for 5G specify lower latency in comparison with previous generations of cellular technology, and by storing data resources closer to end users, edge computing also helps minimize latency.

Potentially AT&T or other wireless carriers could co-locate in their own or Frontier’s central offices to establish edge computing infrastructure to support low-latency wireless applications.

Asked why a wireless carrier would collocate in a central office rather than at a cellsite, the Frontier spokesperson said, “Cell sites do not always have the space, access security and cross-connect future-proofing that hyper-local offices offer. Also, as wireless providers virtualize their 5G networks, the computing equipment in hyper-local offices will manage/balance configurations across multiple cell towers and small cell locations that aggregate into it.”

The AT&T and Frontier deal builds on a previous deal inked in 2021 that called for AT&T to purchase fiber connectivity from Frontier outside the AT&T local service territory to serve business customers.

In a press release, Cheryl Choy, senior vice president of Network Planning & Engineering at AT&T called the expanded deal a “win for both companies as they can fully utilize their fiber infrastructure and we can continue to ensure our wireless services are powered by the unparalleled capacity of fiber optic networks.”

Updated with comments from an AT&T spokesperson

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