T-Mobile puts target on AT&T with LTE fixed wireless pilot expansion

T-Mobile today put a target on AT&T, announcing a major expansion of its LTE fixed wireless home internet pilot to hundreds of new locations where just last week AT&T stopped taking signups for its DSL service.

And T-Mobile made no qualms about pouncing on that development. The announcement touts that the pilot is expanding to more than 20 million households in parts of 450 cities and towns “being abandoned by AT&T in the middle of a pandemic when connectivity has never been more important.”

AT&T stopped accepting new orders for its copper-based DSL service on October 1. Current DSL customers can keep using their existing service or can upgrade to the operator’s fiber service where it’s available. However, not all DSL locations have the option for fiber just yet and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union has criticized the lack of fiber alternative.  

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert called AT&T out, in a statement saying: “We can’t stand idly by while AT&T leaves potentially millions with fewer home Internet options at a time when our connection to the Internet is so vital… That’s why we’re undertaking this massive expansion.”

Still, when it comes to T-Mobile’s expansion, there are some caveats. The operator acknowledged it doesn’t have total coverage in all of the areas AT&T provides DSL, many of which are in rural parts of the country. And it’s unclear exactly how many households T-Mobile’s LTE FWA home internet pilot can support.

On its website T-Mobile said the service is available on a “first-come, first-served basis based on equipment inventory and local network capacity,” which it noted “is expanding all the time.”

When contacted by Fierce about how many of those 20 million homes T-Mobile believes it can currently support, a T-Mobile spokesperson responded that: "We are not providing any more information as to our inventory/capacity.”

The full list of new locations is here, and consumers can check availability for their address on T-Mobile’s website.

RELATED: Timing is everything for Verizon’s LTE fixed wireless access

Still, it does represent a much bigger stake in the ground when it comes to T-Mobile’s fixed wireless home internet efforts – with a presence in 27 new states.

T-Mobile has been fairly quiet about its LTE FWA pilot program so far, which launched in March 2019 as an invitation-only service available to select existing customers in specific areas. The goal was to reach 50,000 households by the end of 2019.

More recently that expanded to non-T-Mobile customers in certain Michigan counties, including the Grand Rapids area.

As part of commitments to secure approval for its Sprint merger, T-Mobile pledged to cover more than half of U.S. households with 5G broadband service, promising speeds above 100 Mbps, by 2024. At that time, it said it would have the capacity to enable 9.4 million households within six years and be a serious challenger to cable operators and telco internet service providers.

Carriers rallying around FWA

T-Mobile isn’t the only one doing LTE fixed wireless for home broadband.

Competitor Verizon’s FWA LTE service was doing so well in rural areas that it just expanded to cover rural parts of 189 markets in 48 states. The expansion happened to be announced Oct. 1, the same day AT&T pulled the plug on DSL.

Verizon told Fierce earlier this week it was all about timing – though not speaking directly about AT&T.   

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T-Mobile’s LTE Home Internet is priced at $50 per month with autopay – which lands in between Verizon’s $40 per month price tag for its wireless subscribers and the $60 per month charge for non-Verizon wireless subs. However, Verizon customers have to buy a $240 home router for self-install.

T-Mobile’s FWA LTE home internet service is also self-install but the operator says there are no hardware fees, and a $0 hardware lease with service for the T-Mobile LTE Wi-Fi Gateway. The operator also touts taxes and fees included, no two-year contracts and prices won’t increase after an introductory period.