AT&T expands rural fixed wireless web service to 70K locations

AT&T is stepping up its pursuit of fixed wireless web service in rural areas in a big way.

The nation’s No. 2 mobile carrier said its Fixed Wireless Internet offering for rural and underserved areas is now available through 70,000 locations across nine states. After an initial launch in Georgia two months ago, AT&T has expanded it to parts of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana.

The service is part of AT&T’s participation in the FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF-II). AT&T, Verizon and eight other carriers accepted a total of $1.5 billion in late 2015 in the second phase of that initiative, which aims to bring broadband service to an estimated 23 million Americans in rural areas.

AT&T said it plans to serve more than 400,000 locations with the service by the end of the year, growing to 1.1 million locations by 2020.

Customers in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Texas will be able to access the offering by the end of the year.

"We're committed to connect hard-to-reach locations to the internet. This changes lives and creates economic growth for these areas," said Cheryl Choy, vice president, wired voice and internet products at AT&T, in a press release. "We're excited to bring this service to even more underserved locations."

The service includes 160 GB of data per month, with additional data available at $10 per GB up to a maximum of $200 a month. Customers must have an AT&T-provided outdoor antenna and the carrier’s indoor residential gateway, and additional buckets of 50 GB of data are available for $10 each up to a maximum of $200 a month.

The products and services are provided by subsidies and affiliates of AT&T under the carrier’s brand, but not directly by the carrier itself.

An AT&T representative said the offering uses a cell tower with a separate fixed wireless antenna and a dedicated outdoor antenna -- something like a satellite TV antenna -- attached to a roof, chimney or other exterior location. An Ethernet cable runs from the exterior antenna to an AT&T Wi-Fi gateway inside the house.

Earlier this year the operator said it was conducting Wireless Local Loop (WLL) tests on its LTE network in two locations in the U.S. The carrier confirmed in 2015 that it was testing WLL in select areas of the country with local residents who wanted to try it, including in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Virginia. AT&T reported it had seen speeds of roughly 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps using WLL.

*This story was updated June 26 to provide technical information regarding AT&T's Fixed Wireless Internet service.