Fixed wireless broadband hits speed bumps
By Denise Pappalardo
(IDG) -- The recent announcement by AT&T Wireless Group that it's closing its fixed-wireless operations--on the heels of Sprint scaling back its plans in that arena--is the latest indication that this may be a broadband access technology ahead of its time.
Observers say that product technology in the works will greatly reduce the cost of providing fixed-wireless services and enable new service features, both of which are needed for carriers to justify the delivery of such services across the rural regions typically targeted. But they say it's unlikely this technology will be solid for a few years.
"Service providers would rather roll fixed wireless out when they have a more cost-effective architecture, and that's still in flux," says Maribel Dolinov, senior analyst at Forrester Research.
All of this helps explain why AT&T Wireless is subjecting itself to a $1.3 billion write-down of its fixed-wireless business rather than trying to keep it going. The company says continuing to operate and expand its Digital Broadband business would just be too expensive.All of this helps explain why AT&T Wireless is subjecting itself to a $1.3 billion write-down of its fixed-wireless business rather than trying to keep it going. The company says continuing to operate and expand its Digital Broadband business would just be too expensive.
Unlike other fixed-wireless providers, such as Sprint and WorldCom (which continues to forge ahead with its fixed-wireless plans), AT&T Wireless targeted only residential users with its 512-kilobits-per-second Internet access service.
Offering an Alternative
The digital broadband offering attracted 47,000 users, most of them consumers, with a smattering of small office/home office users included. The service runs over the company's PCS 1900-MHz spectrum and its Wireless Communication Service spectrum in the 2305-MHz to 2320-MHz and the 2345-MHz to 2360-MHz ranges.
The idea was to offer customers a last-mile alternative when they were not on AT&T Broadband's cable network or DSL could not be provisioned, Dolinov says.
But clearly this was an AT&T initiative. AT&T Wireless, now separated from its parent, does not have the same last-mile concerns. While the company says this is a bittersweet cut, AT&T Wireless officials are also quick to point out that digital broadband is a nonstrategic business.
It's taking too long to locate towers, installation costs have gone up, and AT&T Wireless has not been able to improve backhaul provisioning with the incumbent local exchange carriers, which "exacerbate costs," says John Zeglis, chief executive officer at AT&T Wireless.
On the bright side, AT&T Wireless will be able to reclaim PCS spectrum in San Diego and Dallas that is being used to support its fixed-wireless services sooner than expected. The company needs this spectrum to deploy 3G mobile wireless technology.
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