Wednesday, October 05, 2016

AT&T’s bifurcated, speculative strategy on residential telecom service

AT&T has adopted a bifurcated and highly speculative future strategy for its residential premise telecommunications market segment that treats a small portion of it like a specialized business market for its fiber to the premise (FTTP) service while serving other residential customers with a mix of wireless technologies.

AT&T Fiber is primarily aimed at business premises and multi-family buildings and not single family homes. The company is phasing out its legacy U-Verse service that blends fiber to neighborhood distribution equipment with copper from the era of Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) – metallic infrastructure it is anxious to retire as quickly as possible to avoid the cost of maintaining it. In its place AT&T is relying on proven and unproven radio-based technologies.

In some high cost areas of its U.S. service territory, AT&T recently announced it would construct infrastructure designed to deliver fixed residential premise service as part of upgrading its mobile wireless service to 4G LTE technology. However, that infrastructure will be obsolete the day it’s installed, not even close to approaching what the U.S. Federal Communications Commission considers service capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video. It’s essentially a bolt on afterthought to a 4G LTE mobile wireless service upgrade that will likely bog down during peak periods as its shared bandwidth becomes saturated with heavy, multi-premise demand.

As for the unproven radio-based technology that’s still in the development phase, AT&T recently announced its experimental “Project AirGig” technology. It will utilize antennas mounted atop utility poles to transmit millimeter wave signals from pole to pole. It taps into those signals to feed premise service based on 4G (or more optimally, AT&T’s still under development 5G wireless technology.) The service will apparently be similar to electrical power distribution architecture where current from high voltage transmission lines on the tops of poles is stepped down by a transformer before it flows into a home. This service in theory would be capable of meeting the FCC’s minimum service standard. But at this point, it’s largely speculative and leaves much of AT&T’s residential market segment with no clear and certain future path as its legacy copper cable POTS plant rots on the poles.

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