AT&T treads carefully with ramped up FWA rollout

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AT&T is keen to take on T-Mobile and Verizon in the 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) market, but not at the expense of mobile customers or its fibre business.

Having hinted at a broader rollout of Internet Air earlier this year, the US telco this week announced its arrival in 16 new locations coast-to-coast, and said more markets will get it in future.

It offers uncapped data for $55 per month before taxes, and comes with no equipment costs, or annual contract. That’s broadly in line with T-Mobile and Verizon, which each offer FWA from $50, although cheaper rates are available for existing mobile subscribers.

Using its app, AT&T reckons Internet Air customers can self-install and be up and running in as little as 15 minutes. For an extra $10 per month, it will supply mesh networking gear to help customers tackle any persistent notspots.

To call this a nationwide launch of Internet Air would be a bit of stretch though. AT&T has been clear throughout the service’s development that it is targeted at a relatively small group of prospective customers. More specifically, customers who until now have relied on AT&T’s ageing DSL network for their fixed broadband and who are unlikely to get fibre coverage any time soon.

AT&T is also only prepared to offer Internet Air in locations where it has sufficient mobile capacity – it doesn’t want to jeopardise the 5G mobile experience for the sake of a few data-hungry cord-cutters.

“Over the past year, our team has been hard at work identifying customer pain points, like legacy Internet options, and created a solution by utilising available network capacity in areas that are less densely populated while still providing a strong connection. Thus, AT&T Internet Air was born,” said Erin Scarborough, president of broadband and connectivity initiatives at AT&T, in blog post.

“We’ve already rolled out AT&T Internet Air to existing copper-based customers with great success. As we begin to scale, we are hyper-focused on selecting locations with enough wireless coverage and capacity to deliver not only a great in-home experience, but also maintain a top-notch wireless service for our existing mobile users.”

It is understandable that AT&T wants to avoid irking mobile users and cannibalising its fibre base, but FWA’s popularity in the US is impossible to ignore. Indeed, AT&T’s rivals have been only too happy to capitalise on the opportunity.

Stats published last week by Leichtman Research Group revealed that T-Mobile and Verizon’s FWA customer bases weighed in at an impressive 3.7 million and 2.3 million respectively at the end of June. Together they added a combined 893,000 customers during the second quarter.

According to Leichtman, during that same three months, big US cablecos – with the exception of Charter – all recorded net customer losses at their broadband operations. Telcos also notched up losses at their fixed-line businesses, as gains by Verizon more than offset steep declines at AT&T and Lumen.

With stats like these, the question for AT&T is whether it can afford to tread carefully with Internet Air.


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