January 12, 2017
In terms of 5G announcements, this year is starting off where 2016 left off only this time it was AT&T setting the tone. But instead of the Mobile World Congress, the venue was the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
AT&T announced its “5G Evolution plans for 2017 and beyond,” highlighting initiatives in LTE, 5G and fiber. The road to 5G includes continued deployment of LTE Advanced, achieving peak theoretical speeds of a gig at some cell sites in the next year through three-way and four-way carrier aggregation. Look for a 5G video trial with DirecTV in Austin, Texas, late in 2017. And the carrier said it is offering gigabit connections on its fiber network at nearly 4 million locations across 46 metros nationwide.
John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations, emphasized that the carrier is not waiting for final standards to move forward on 5G trials, which he expects will “lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G.” The carrier wants to avoid falling behind in 5G development, according to Joe Madden, principal analyst, Mobile-Experts.
“The culture of AT&T and Verizon is different,” Madden said. “Verizon is making lots of announcements about their deployment of a network, while AT&T has spent more time focused on partnerships and acquisitions of video content. They want to purchase Time Warner and they merged with DirecTV to consolidate the market for video content.”
On Jan. 3, AT&T joined Qualcomm and Ericsson to announce trials using 3GPP’s 5G New Radio specifications in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands.
“AT&T has been a little quiet about [28 GHz and 39 GHz]. Their access to that spectrum is a big question mark right now,” Madden said. “Verizon has spectrum in those bands from the purchase of XO Communications, and I have been expecting AT&T to acquire a company with licenses in those bands. It hasn’t happened so far.” One possible candidate for purchase is Straight Path Communications, which has several licenses at 39 GHz, he added.
AT&T also said it plans to expand its multi-dwelling unit fixed wireless point-to-point millimeter wave trial in Minneapolis that it announced in October 2016. Madden stated that fixed video will be a priority in 5G for some time to come.
“Broadband virtual reality is sexy and fun but basic video entertainment is driving the bulk of the capacity needs right now and it is what is going to drive future demand,” he said. “In the higher spectrum it gets very expensive to deploy all the base stations to feed service indoors. That’s problematic and we don’t have access to spectrum below 6 GHz yet to penetrate buildings.”
Later this month, AT&T will be in Park City, Utah, looking for ways to grow its entertainment lineup as the official Multichannel Video Programming Distributor sponsor of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
“AT&T’s culture is to get the product that everybody wants to stream and then figure out how to deliver it later,” Madden said “Verizon’s taken the approach of figuring out the network and get the content later.”
Eventually, AT&T will eventually deliver the video over fiber, LTE and 5G, Madden said. “The only question is how they prioritize upgrades to their LTE network, the development of the 5G network and the fiber network,” he said. “AT&T’s focus so far has been on fiber and LTE, while Verizon has concentrated on fiber, LTE and 5G and less on content.”
How AT&T prioritizes its comm-infra buildout may become a little less easy to discern in the future, according to Jennifer Fritzsche, Wells Fargo senior analyst, because the line between wireless and wireline has become so blurred.
“On January 25th when [AT&T] reports Q4 and offers its 2017 outlook, it will likely give ONE capex number,” she wrote recently. “The days of breaking out wireless vs. wireline capex are gone. Why? Are they hiding something? Is it some conspiracy against the towers? No…. not at all, in our view. It is just to separate the two may be nearly impossible because the spending curve today is morphed together in an incredible way, with fiber at the base of it.”