Wi-Fi will be embedded in AT&T's small cell plan
Executive tells conference the cellco will deploy 40,000 small cells and all will have Wi-Fi integration from 2014
Published: 10 January, 2013
As operators start to formulate their plans for broad-scale small cell roll-outs, one of the key decisions will be how tightly to integrate Wi-Fi. AT&T, one of the biggest proponents of using Wi-Fi hotspots for data offload, sees the unlicensed technology moving closer to the heart of the network in future, claiming all small cell and in-building build-outs from 2014 will incorporate Wi-Fi.
This was the message from John Donovan, senior EVP at AT&T Technology and Network Operations, speaking at this week's Citi global internet, media and communications conference. Reiterating his commitment, made at the operator's developer summit earlier in the week, that AT&T would "densify" its urban LTE network from next year using small cells, he told the Citi audience that his firm could deploy over 10,000 macrocells, 40,000 small cells and 1,000 DAS (distributed antenna systems). This national roll-out will be part of the multibillion dollar Project VIP to expand 4G and fiber.
"We expect that over half of our densification over the next three years is going to be the result of deploying small cell technology," Donavan said, with Wi-Fi a critical part of that. That will be helped by emerging standards for seamless hand-off and authentication between cellular and WLan access points, and some carriers are going as far as to plan fully converged Wi-Fi/4G small base stations in future.
All this activity may show, in the end, that AT&T did not need to buy T-Mobile USA after all. The failed bid to acquire TMo was its first-line strategy to increase spectrum capacity but now, although it has acquired some new frequencies, notably in the WCS band, it is focusing on squeezing more capacity out of the airwaves it has via small cells, offload and techniques such as carrier aggregation.
As of the end of 2012, Donovan said, AT&T had extended its total HSPA+ footprint to 288m POPs and its LTE coverage to over 170m. The latter figure will reach 300m by the end of 2014.