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Extending the Company’s Reach

AT&T is seeking new ways to bring internet service to America.

The footprint for AT&T’s wireline internet infrastructure is massive, but it’s not infinite. Millions of potential customers are beyond its reach.

To close this gap, AT&T is testing a point-to-point millimeter wave fixed wireless platform in a few apartment complexes in Minneapolis. The system is meant to deliver 100 megabits-per-second (100 MB/S) data service.

Combining Wired and Wireless Systems

AT&T says it believes the new system probably could handle much higher speeds– up to 500 MB/S.

The wireless platform is an extension of the telecom giant’s wireline system. From locations connected to its fiber-optic lines, AT&T will send data signals to nearby buildings via rooftop radio and antenna systems. Once the radio signal reaches the neighboring building, AT&T converts it to a wireline signal. Then the signal is routed to each residence via connections to new or existing cable in each unit.

In the trial buildings, residents can also receive DirecTV service via an “Advantage” platform. A single satellite dish on the building will provide independent TV programming for each unit.

AT&T said: “We’re evaluating the expansion of this fixed wireless millimeter-wave solution to connect additional properties outside of our traditional wireline service area. Additional areas under consideration where we might connect more properties include, but are not limited to, Boston, Denver, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington D.C.”

Internet Service over Existing Power Lines

The fixed wireless system is not the telecom’s only effort to reach consumers outside its wireline network. Last month, AT&T launched Project AirGig. This is a test of technologies for gigabit-speed wireless internet service over existing power lines. The signals will move over cheap plastic antennae and other devices placed on or near power lines, which will boost millimeter wave signals for 4G LTE or 5G broadband service to the home. The devices will not need direct electrical connections to the power lines.

The Need for Innovation

Internet service providers are having to scramble to meet consumer wants. With more internet users streaming video, and with ever more devices connected to the web, ISPs will be asked to provide much more bandwidth. 5G technologies are promising, but will not be available to consumers for years. Cable companies are experimenting with DOCSIS 3.1, which will allow gigabit speed through existing coaxial cable. Rice University is experimenting with terabit-speed WiFi.

While working on more advanced technologies, ISPs are trying to save money by wringing the most traffic from their existing networks. AT&T’s hybrid fixed wireless system is one such effort.

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