AT&T Mobility announced today a multibillion-dollar initiative called Project Velocity IP (or VIP). It would expand AT&T’s 700 MHz LTE network to 300 million covered POPs by the end of 2014. That compares to its current plans to deploy 4G LTE to about 250 million people by year-end 2013. AT&T says it will deploy more than 10,000 new macrocells, along with 40,000 small cells and 1,000 distributed antenna systems (DAS).
AT&T plans to invest $14 billion over the next three years to expand its wireless and wireline IP broadband networks in the United States to support high-speed Internet access and new mobile, app and cloud services. On the wireline side, it includes expanding its U-Verse services, upgrading speeds and extending fiber to multi-tenant buildings.
AT&T will abandon phone lines in less dense areas in favor of wireless and will build out its 4G LTE network to cover rural users. Of the $14 billion investment, $8 billion will go to the wireless network. Not all of the $14 billion represents an increase over AT&T’s regular $19 billion to $20 billion in annual capital spending. The company expects to spend roughly $22 billion a year for the next three years, it said, before returning to more normal levels.
The plan would use spectrum that it acquired through various transactions, including the company’s 20 MHz of WCS (2.3 GHz) spectrum. LTE Advanced includes carrier aggregation and extended MIMO functionality.
AT&T paid $1.93 billion for Qualcomm’s FLO TV channels last year. That covers over 70 million people on the 700 MHz band. Channel aggregation, made possible by LTE-A, may allow AT&T to gang the 6 Mhz channel together with their 2 x 12 MHz channels in the lower 700 MHz band.
Satellite provider Dish purchased the other unpaired (E-Block) spectrum across the country for around $700 million. The largest cities in the E block were snapped up by Qualcomm, but Dish got many of the smaller cities. If AT&T purchased Dish it might get both the remaining 700 MHz E-block and Dish’s 40 MHz in the 2.1 GHz (MSS) band.
Presumably, many of the 10K new macrocells that AT&T plans would be WCS/PCS radios on existing towers, while the 40K “small cells” may largely consist of WiFi nodes using Hotspot 2.0 for seamless roaming.
John Donovan, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of technology and network operations, said that the company’s expansion of LTE to 300 million POPs will include a “densification” of the network, which will support Voice over LTE.
AT&T also plans to use its 4G wireless network to offer services to 25 percent of AT&T’s wireline customer locations where it’s currently not economically feasible to build a competitive IP wireline network.
AT&T may be planning more urban “hot zones”. Ericsson added a pico base station with integrated wi-fi to its hetnet portfolio. Boingo’s Wi-Fi service is a “white label” offering. That means carriers can rebrand it as part of their service.
Boingo’s competitors include HarborLink, Anyfi Networks, BelAir Networks, recently acquired by Ericsson, and Ruckus Wireless, which offers a beamforming WiFi solution offered by cable and wireless companies.
Ruckus Wireless was selected by The Cloud, the UK’s largest public access Wi-Fi provider, to supply indoor WiFi, expanding its nationwide Wi-Fi network. The Cloud provides public Wi-Fi — for its subscribers.
Other carrier-controlled WiFi networks include:
- Ruckus has completed its first demonstration with a major U.S. operator, rumored to be Verizon.
- AT&T Mobility announced its own hotzone thrust, expanding its WiFi hotzones into more areas of Chicago, New York and San Francisco to offload heavy 3G traffic.
- Boingo Wireless has 3,000 hotspots in Japan, with a roaming agreement operated by the Wi2 300 service.
- China Unicom and China Mobile sell iPhones but they are restricted to 2G. So the iPhone is packaged with a WiFi-only service, and a pre-pay of 2,400 yuan worth of WiFi usage. China Mobile plans to add a further one million WiFi hotspots around the country over the next three years.
- Japan’s KDDI and Ruckus. The companies are building out a Wi-Fi network composed of 100,000 hot spots. KDDI subscribers can use the new KDDI “au Wi-Fi SPOT” service free. Others can’t.
- Ruckus and Towerstream have built out wholesale hotzones throughout New York City, San Francisco and Chicago in 2011 as well as Grand Central Terminal and Times Square, using TowerStream’s backhaul installed on nearby tall buildings.
With the development of 802.11n, one WiFi network can now hog ALL the available channels on the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, effectively eliminating nearby “free” competition in a mall or other public place. Ruckus says beamforming is a solution.
Another solution would be to use the carriers’ own licensed frequencies – with femtocells. With either microcells or WiFi hotspots on light poles, AT&T could use 5 GHz backhaul (and kill two free birds with one stone).
Other options on the table for AT&T are not particularly attractive.
The 40 MHz of 2.1 GHz MSS spectrum from Dish Networks and the 2.6 GHz spectrum are likely on the table by AT&T for LTE. But the 2.1 GHz MSS spectrum is not internationally supported and the 2.6 GHz band is currently owned by Clearwire in the United States.
Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said the company will provide more details on its planned LTE-advanced network within the next three months, said Ergen during Dish’s third-quarter earnings conference call Tuesday.
Refarming AT&T’s PCS (and 800 Mhz), supplemented by WiFi and eventually 2.3 GHz may help, but AT&T must compete with Verizon’s 40 MHz of AWS spectrum next year.
Maybe AT&T is counting on the 600 MHz auction in 2014 to pull them through. Unfortunately for AT&T’s executive leadership, anyone can do the math.
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