AT&T partners with NetComm Wireless on rural broadband; launches Indiana pre-5G

NetComm Wireless and AT&T are focused on bringing broadband connectivity to rural areas across 18 US states using fixed-wireless, while AT&T also rolls out its '5G Evolution' network to 20 metropolitan areas.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

NetComm Wireless has announced that it will be partnering with an AT&T subsidiary on an initiative to improve fixed-wireless broadband across regional areas of the United States, with the carrier also announcing the launch of its 5G Evolution network across Indianapolis.

According to NetComm Wireless, which also supplies fixed-wireless equipment to Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN), it will supply AT&T with outdoor wireless antennas enabling connectivity speeds of at least 10Mbps to under-served premises across 18 states.

AT&T and NetComm Wireless have already deployed their first phase of fixed-wireless throughout the states of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Microsoft earlier this week similarly announced that it would use the unused channels between television broadcasts, or white spaces, to improve regional access to broadband for 2 million people across New York, Texas, Washington, Virginia, Michigan, Maine, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Both of these comparatively low-cost rural broadband solutions follow Google Fiber being forced to halt its rollout of fibre across Los Angeles, Dallas, Tampa, Jacksonville, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, and Oklahoma City at the end of last year due to financial difficulties.

AT&T's mobile network, meanwhile, has seen its 5G Evolution upgrade launched in Indiana after the carrier made the service available in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.

The network will be rolled out to 20 metro areas by the end of 2017, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston,Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville.

The 5G Evolution networks involve upgraded cell towers with LTE-Advanced technologies including 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO), and 3x carrier aggregation.

AT&T is aiming to deploy LTE-Licence Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) and 4x carrier aggregation on its network by the end of the year, through which it attained speeds of 750Mbps during a trial in San Francisco.

According to AT&T, it has invested over $350 million in its Indianapolis networks over the past three years, launching a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS), increasing network capacity, and installing small cells, which serve as miniature base stations.

"We're excited to launch these new, faster, wireless technologies in Indianapolis as we march towards standards-based mobile 5G," said AT&T Wireless Network Architecture and Design senior vice president Marachel Knight.

According to AT&T, it is "aggressively deploying equipment" as well as investing in spectrum and technology for 5G while standards are still being finalised.

In May, however, it was outbid by rival operator Verizon, which acquired Straight Path Communications and its valuable portfolio of millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum for $3.1 billion -- almost double AT&T's original $1.6 billion bid.

Straight Path owns 735 mmWave licences in the 39GHz spectrum band, and 133 licences in the 28GHz band.

Verizon is required to pay AT&T a buyout-termination fee of $38 million after submitting an unsolicited bid during AT&T's acquisition process.

Verizon is similarly rolling out a series of 5G trial networks across the United States, in May announcing the deployment of its first network in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The trial network solution consists of a Cisco Ultra Services Platform 5G virtualised packet core with Cisco Advanced Services, as well as Samsung virtual RAN (vRAN) solutions.

In addition, the network uses Samsung's 5G radio base stations and 5G routers, with Verizon senior solutions architect Chris Painter telling ZDNet last month that interoperability is "key" to 5G and one of the main focuses for Verizon.

"Cisco's very beneficial solution, where you can assist the virtualisation for the packet core [and] being able to interoperate with our 5G vendor at the other end of the solution, that interoperability ... is very key," Painter told ZDNet.

"It's going to be a multi-vendor solution, so we need to have that interoperability."

Using Verizon's 5G Technical Forum specification, Samsung, Cisco, and Verizon undertook a series of network vendor interoperability tests across the Ann Arbor trial network in a bid to achieve core network, radio edge, end-user device interworking, and network function virtualisation.

The companies are set to deploy pre-commercial 5G trial networks in 10 more US cities with Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, and Qualcomm by mid-2017 in Atlanta, Georgia; Bernardsville, New Jersey; Brockton, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Sacramento, California; Seattle, Washington; and Washington DC.

Verizon also trialled 5G during the Indianapolis 500 motor race in partnership with Intel and Ericsson in May, using technologies such as beam forming and beam tracking to attain speeds in excess of 6Gbps across Verizon's 5G trial network.

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