AT&T’s Fixed Wireless rollout begins its second stage

AT&T Birmingham
AT&T Birmingham
Will you be able to walk in a store and buy a home internet connection one day? via AT&T

While Birmingham might be excited about fiber finally lighting up, other areas of Alabama have little to no internet access… yet.  Thanks to a FCC program, Connect America, almost everyone in even rural areas of Alabama will have access to broadband.  

What is broadband?

“Broadband” sounds fast, and relative to some internet services it is fast.  Before 2015, the legal definition of broadband was a real download speed of 4 megabits per second, and a real upload speed of 1 megabit per second.  Basically, 720p video.  Today, that definition has narrowed to a minimum download speed of 25mbps and minimum upload speed of 3mbps.  Why the discrepancy?  Chances are, your provider uses Asymmetric DSL, which allows for very fast speeds in one direction – and you probably download a lot more than you upload.

alabama fixed wireless
This is like a phone tower, but not quite – via geograph.org.uk
Why don’t people already have it?

If the minimum speed sounds low, that’s because it kinda is – relative to South Korea.  Beyond that, the US is pretty much average.  This new definition doesn’t change the connections that people already have, but it does provide pressure for internet providers to increase their speeds!

Recently, the FCC introduced Connect America, which provides a subsidy fund for internet providers to use to expand their broadband access.  This funding has led to some creative solutions.  In rural counties in Alabama, AT&T is providing broadband not by laying down cables, but by expanding their wireless coverage.  AT&T purchased a license to a lower-frequency spectrum in order to prevent their regular wireless network from congesting, and in order to increase signal strength.  By building new cell towers, AT&T sidesteps the maintenance and repairs associated with wired internet entirely.

fixed wireless alabama
A pretty good explanation. In AT&T’s case, each tower is connected via fiber optic cable instead of microwave link – via wireless.ictp.it
Who’s getting it?

If internet that doesn’t go down when a telephone pole blows over sounds appealing, you’re out of luck for now.  Because of the FCC’s legal definition of broadband and the realities of network congestion, AT&T has to limit the number of users as they expand their fixed wireless network.  If users don’t receive minimum speeds of 10mbps as advertised, then AT&T loses access to the Connect America Fund.  And if you’ve ever tried to stream netflix on a busy wifi network, then you already know the problem: the more people on the network, the slower it is for everyone.

AT&T held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their expanded rural service early this summer.  It only looked at a single tower, which serves as a pilot program.  But as fixed wireless continues to improve and expand, maybe a broader range of homes could have that option.  And maybe one day, there won’t be utility poles around to be knocked over by wind or car accidents.  Maybe we’ll come to our senses and bury our lines!

fcc map fixed wireless alabama
Go figure, AT&T’s “hunting grounds” are hidden under confidentiality concerns. But this does show how large an area needs to be covered. via fcc.gov
How to get fixed wireless

If you live in Birmingham, you can’t buy fixed wireless.  However, if you live in certain parts of 27 Alabama counties, you might be eligible!  Describing the exact coverage map seems a little unnecessary, so if 10mbps sounds like an improvement, check availability here.

 

Author: James Ozment

I'm a Birmingham native who loves music, cycling, reading, and tech. Find me on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, in Avondale, or hanging out with my cat