T-Mobile this week expanded the reach of its fixed wireless Home Internet service in four states.
The carrier added 51 new cities and towns across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. That brings its FWA tally to around 600 locations in the U.S.
For fixed wireless ambitions, T-Mobile has called out two opportunities – one in communities that are underserved and the other where there may only be one option for high-speed internet from a wireline provider and where it hopes to challenge incumbent cable and telcos. The new expansion appears to be targeting both.
In a news release, T-Mobile said that across the four states nearly 1 million people don’t have access to any wired internet provider, while 3.3 million people only have one option for internet.
“Today, thousands more households now have access to fast, unlimited high-speed internet. We’re expanding access in places that have never had a real choice when it comes to home broadband, where people are fed up with cable and telco ISPs,” said Dow Draper, EVP of Emerging Products at T-Mobile, in a statement. “We’re able to continue to expand access to this service because of the massive investments we’ve made in our 5G network. That’s the real power of 5G.”
T-Mobile’s Home Internet product doesn’t use a 5G moniker, but a spokesperson confirmed that 5G-based FWA service will be available at all the newly announced locations. That includes 19 new places in Florida, 14 in Georgia, 11 in North Carolina and seven in South Carolina. For a limited time, T-Mobile said it’s knocking $10 off the regular price of $60 per month for the home internet service.
T-Mobile is using the following bands for Home Internet: LTE bands 2 (1900 MHz), 4 (1700/2100 MHz), 12 (700 MHz), 66 (1700/2100 MHz) and 71 (600 MHz), as well as 5G New Radio (NR) bands 41 (2.5 GHz) and 71 (600 MHz).
Its in-home routers are 5G-capable, as noted in a review by CNET over the summer, but the outlet said in testing the service there was no indication of what generation technology was delivering the home internet.
In August Mobile Experts released a new report noting a rise in FWA services, partly driven by effects of Covid. The report said FWA service grew almost 20% yearly to over 80 million connections in 2020 and the firm expects that figure to soar to nearly 200 million by 2026.
Speaking to FierceWireless about the report last month, Mobile Experts’ principal analyst Kyung Mun said the firm was seeing both large and small operators in some areas leverage fixed wireless and utilize mobile network capacity. He noted the trend was more prevalent in markets outside of North America. In the U.S. he said it’s been highlighted by carriers as they expand their 5G network capacity with mid-band spectrum but is just getting started there.
T-Mobile has mid-band 2.5 GHz, while AT&T and Verizon are gearing up for mid-band C-band deployments this year.
“We believe that operators will definitely take advantage of the increased capacity on the fixed wireless side in some regions, not everywhere, but larger operators will definitely focus their 5G network investment on mobile first,” Mun said.
However, he said in some cases like T-Mobile’s focus on FWA in less competitive markets in rural and semi suburban areas, “certainly they’ll be able to tackle that with expanding mid-band capacity that T-Mobile is deploying right now.”
T-Mobile’s target is to address 7-8 million homes with FWA within the next five years. And Neville Ray, T-Mobile president of technology, recently highlighted that by deploying 2.5 GHz from Sprint, the operator will have 14x the network capacity by 2025 – a leap from what it could’ve done without the additional spectrum.
Verizon has also targeted FWA and was the first to introduce a 5G home internet offering using high-band millimeter wave spectrum. Verizon’s 5G Home recently expanded to five more cities, for a total of 57 (T-Mobile in Wednesday’s announcement took a jab at its competitor’s deployment compared to its own 600 FWA locations). A 4G FWA service from Verizon is available in 48 states. The carrier plans to reach 15 million homes with fixed wireless by the end of 2021, and nearly 30 million by 2023.
Instead of rural areas, Verizon’s mmWave 5G home is in limited parts of cities. Mun pointed out that dense urban areas are much more competitive as there are options like fiber and cable broadband as well, alongside niche enterprise-centric opportunities.
“It remains to be seen how much effort Verizon puts in with their 5G millimeter wave” for FWA in urban locations, Mun said, adding that he doesn’t consider it a huge scale opportunity.
“They will pick opportunistically location and places where there is a consumer or there is an enterprise that is underserved,” Mun said. He believes Verizon can definitely provide a competitive offering with mmWave, but emphasized that mmWave 5G isn’t available everywhere and definitely makes sense to deploy for a mobile-first focus.
Still, if there are areas where there’s extra capacity, Mun said “certainly Verizon and others can target some of those [FWA] opportunities in dense urban, but I don’t think it will be massive scale because it’s a very competitive market.