AT&T today revealed more about its plans to bring bigger bandwidth to the consumer market, and it's looking like less and less fiber will be doing the job. Meanwhile, they will be trialing 5G delivery of DIRECTV NOW in the first half of 2017 to residential subscribers over a fixed wireless 5G connection in Austin. AT&T also has 5G over millimeter wave in trials with business customers, also in Austin.
The bottom line seems to be that AT&T sees 5G as a cheaper way to bring a gigabit to the consumer market than rolling out fiber to the home. While the company has rolled out fiber to some 4M locations, especially in MDUs and plans to reach some 12.5M by 2019, the process hasn't been as fast as Verizon's FIOS rollout. But with 5G now looking like a cheaper way to do the same job, alternatives like that of Google Fiber are clearly taking note.
Can 5G really take the place of a dedicated fiber connection on a massive scale? The details of the implementation will matter a great deal, I think. Wireless connectivity is like magic, except when you're in a dead spot or the nearby tower is straining under its current traffic load. I have a feeling the ride to 5G for fully scaled video delivery is going to be a bumpy one. And given the likely new regulatory environment, it will be especially bumpy when going OTT.
On the other hand, all this has the potential to do what 35 years of regulatory maneuvers have not - bring true competition to the last mile. If 5G can do the job of copper, coax, and fiber in the last mile, then all of a sudden you don't have an effective duopoly anymore. And the process building out all the necessary fiber backhaul infrastructure will be a boon to the whole sector, regardless.
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