AT&T’s blockbuster $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner is being touted as a way for the company to build its content portfolio and ultimately compete with cable companies to deliver high-speed broadband and TV services to consumers.
And it appears 5G will play a key role in that plan. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the company’s call with investors about the deal on Monday that he believes the acquisition will drive more demand for 5G. “As we begin to stimulate even more and more demand of video over-the-top on our mobile networks, the desire and the incentive to go faster on 5G deployment is heightened,” he said.
But exactly how the deal could make 5G deployment faster is unclear. It is unlikely it could accelerate the timeline for the 5G standard, which is not expected to be complete until 2020. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the standards body that releases the final standard, and it can be long laborious process. The 3GPP is the mobile industry standards body that will submit a proposed specification to the ITU to be part of the 5G standard.
“The 5G timeline is already stressed,” said Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst with 451 Research. “I believe there will be sacrifices made when you accelerate a complex technical task,” he added.
However, Rehbehn said that AT&T’s Stephenson may have been referring to the investment needed to increase the fixed wireless footprint so the company could deliver more content to subscribers outside its existing wireline coverage area.
Just last week AT&T demonstrated 5G capabilities at the Texas Wireless Summit in Austin, Texas. Using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, the company delivered speeds in the 13 to 14 Gb/s range with a latency close to 1 millisecond.
Chetan Sharma, founder of Chetan Sharma Consulting, agrees that the 5G standards process will not be speedier, but said that the company may be looking at ways to offer content over its fixed wireless connection to bring more competition to the marketplace. “We don’t have much cable competition, and this is a way to bring competition to many more cities,” Sharma said.
However, he added that the fixed wireless model is still largely unproven. “Will that fixed wireless model be able to scale?” he asked. “If so, you could provide competition with 1-Gb/s speeds and media services.”