AT&T pushing 5G mobile tech to support rapid DirecTV Now expansion

By Jim O'Neill on Jan 05 2017 at 5:30 AM
AT&T pushing 5G mobile tech to support rapid DirecTV Now expansion

Think AT&T is looking at its DirecTV Now as a complementary service to its satellite-delivered DirecTV service or wired service U-verse TV? Think again.

AT&T at CES this week previewed its 5G wireless technology, and said it would begin testing the tech this year with its DirecTV Now service as a major piece of the delivery matrix.

The company anticipates 5G becoming a cheaper fiber-optic substitute and believes it could deploy as soon as 2018. AT&T says it's reached 14 Gbps speeds in lab trials, and will begin live testing of distributing DirecTV Now via 5G fixed wireless to homes in Austin, Texas, by midyear.

The company said it's "not waiting" for 5G service standards to be finalized, and has been following a roadmap of expected specifications developed by 3GPP.

The telco is deploying three-channel carrier aggregation now, and expects 1-Gbps speeds this year when it launches four-channel carrier aggregation and LTE-License Assisted Access in the coming year.

The operator is teaming up with Qualcomm and Ericsson for over-the-air field trials the technology.

The companies expect to achieve multi-gigabit-per-second data rates, useful for emerging services like virtual reality, augmented reality and connected cloud services.

"5G technology … offers tremendous opportunity to revolutionize the way we use mobile networks across industries," said Tom Keathley, senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design, AT&T.

DirecTV Now is the multi-channel Cloud TV service just rolled out by AT&T. It offers packages from 60 to 120-plus channels of live linear content, including most of the major networks and many of the cable networks.

CEO Randall Stephenson last year said he fully expects DirecTV Now will impact its traditional DirecTV and U-verse pay-TV services, saying: “I do think, yes, that there is risk of cannibalizing the existing product. And I think that’s always a good sign. That means you have found something that the market really, really wants.”

AT&T initially is targeting households with no pay-TV service, a number than continues to rise as Millennials – who have grown up getting much of their video entertainment online – begin to form more of their own households. Nielsen’s Q3 Total Audience Report estimates broadband-only households increased 27% to 4.6 million in Q3 from 4.36 million a year ago. It also reported that pay-TV subscriptions had fallen to 89.2 million in Q3.

Stay tuned.

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