AT&T says DirecTV relationships helps it scale hybrid wireless/fiber broadband service, future G.fast deployments

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As AT&T looks to scale its hybrid millimeter wave wireless and wireline service across a broader footprint of apartment buildings, the service provider can turn to the agreements it has in place via its DirecTV acquisition.

Under AT&T’s plan, the service provider can reach apartment complexes outside of its wireline service area to deliver up to 100 Mbps in areas where it has not been able to reach potential broadband users.The service provider is using E-band spectrum above 70 GHz-80 GHz.

By purchasing DirecTV, AT&T gained access to thousands of properties that have already installed satellite TV at these sites and established relationships with property managers. These property managers are used to having DirecTV present performing customer installation and support.

Eric Small, VP of commercial and connected communities solutions for AT&T, told FierceInstaller that its goal is to equip these sites with broadband service.

“Ten years ago a lot of properties and customers were interested in TV and was the lead product, but we have seen over the last 10 years the pivot to the importance of internet connectivity so part of the scaling is to bring internet to those thousands of properties that already have DirecTV service,” Small said. “Even though we’re talking about markets outside of our wireline footprint, we have fiber assets in most of the major markets to serve business customers that are usually in close proximity to a lot of multi-dwelling units.”

As part of this process, AT&T will strike a commercial building agreement and extend fiber to those nearby properties and use millimeter wave to wireless technology to send a multi-gigabit signal from a central building connected to fiber to neighboring locations.

 “We would pick and enter into commercial agreements to extend fiber to those properties and then extend out from there using millimeter wave at least initially,” Small said. “There’s always a possibility that to get more density of properties, and these are portable units, so if we needed to move them we could to another property.”

Once inside the building, AT&T will distribute the signal to each unit over the existing in-building Cat 5 or coax wiring. 

Due to the diversity of markets of where AT&T will take this new service, the service provider has to account the nature of each building’s wiring. While the majority of newer buildings AT&T plans to target have been equipped with the latest Category 5 cable, older buildings typically only have coax or twisted pair.

“Buildings in the last 5-10 years have been equipped with structured Cat 5 or Cat 6 cabling,” Small said. “Older properties almost always have coax.”

At the same time, AT&T could incorporate G.fast technology into the mix as it scales the hybrid service into more cities.

G.fast enables AT&T and other telcos to leverage the existing Cat 5, Cat 6 or copper cable to deliver up to 500 Mbps to each resident. The goal is to get a feel for what the customers in these MDUs want out of their broadband service and tailor the right solution.

Earlier this year, a report emerged that AT&T began a G.fast lab test and now is looking at how it could be used to bring up to 300 Mbps to multi-dwelling units (MDUs) by leveraging a building's existing wire versus installing fiber to individual premises.

AT&T can also use G.fast to minimize the impact on a building’s tenants since they would not have to drill holes in walls to install fiber to each unit.

“The other thing that we have separately talked about is we’re exploring the use of G.fast,” Small said. “That technology can work over coax or twisted pair so that’s an essential companion way to deliver service where a property does not have Cat 5 or Cat 6.”

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