AT&T CFO throws shade on Verizon’s fixed 5G plans

AT&T’s CFO said that the carrier has tested fixed 5G services, but doesn’t see much opportunity there.

“Our tests have shown it can be done. We can do it. The opportunity there is something we have to prove out,” said AT&T’s CFO John Stephens. “We're not as excited about the business case—it's not as compelling yet, for us, as it may be for some.”

Those comments are noteworthy considering fixed wireless internet service is the first major use case that Verizon plans to deploy later this year when it launches 5G services using its propriety V5GTF network technology.

Stephens’ comments on the topic of fixed 5G wireless services came in response to a question on the topic during the carrier’s quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts. In a roundabout way, Stephens argued that backhaul is a key component to any fixed wireless 5G service, and that AT&T believes it might be more effective to just deliver internet services via its growing fiber network.

“To get that fixed wireless to the residential, you still have to have backhaul from where the 1,000 feet away to the 1,500 feet away, and you still have to have that backhaul infrastructure. So that could be, depending upon your ability to successfully pick who is going to buy, and how much you're going to need, it's going to be a very tricky business case,” Stephens explained. “For us, with this extensive fiber network, we will be able to have that backhaul. With this extensive FirstNet network, we'll be able to have that backhaul. But quite frankly, if we've got FirstNet and we've got fiber there, it may be just as effective, and may be a better quality product, to give those customers fiber to the home.

“So, we're continuing to work at it, I just don't want to hold it out as a—right now, as you can tell, we are more excited about our FirstNet opportunity, about our fiber opportunities that we're building and selling into that. And quite frankly, about the overall 5G Evolution and 5G capabilities in our overall mobility network, serving much of the mobile broadband demands that are out there.”

AT&T has promised to launch mobile 5G services in a dozen cities by the end of this year. The carrier has said that its so-called “5G Evolution” markets offer advanced LTE technologies that pave the way for 5G.

In their own comments on the topic, Verizon management has made clear that fixed wireless internet services is just one use case that the carrier is planning to chase via the deployment of 5G technology. Nonetheless, fixed wireless services likely will be the first offering Verizon launches later this year when it flips the switch on its commercial 5G service launch in 3-5 U.S. cities.

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Indeed, Verizon’s CFO Matt Ellis reiterated the company’s argument that fixed is just one 5G application the carrier is pursuing. “We can launch 5G mobility on our existing assets,” Ellis said, noting that Verizon won’t need to purchase additional spectrum to offer mobile 5G services. “We are comfortable that we can launch 5G mobility with the assets that we have. 5G mobility will be initially very much heavily focused on urban areas, and we have the assets in place there and we will be ready to launch as soon as the OEMs have handsets available with 5G chipsets in them.”

Verizon has said that its 5G fixed wireless efforts will eventually target 30 million U.S. households and will offer 1 Gbps speeds.