US telco AT&T is grudgingly inching further away from its early reticence about 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) by making its Internet Air service available to business customers.

Nick Wood

March 27, 2024

3 Min Read

It is positioning Internet Air for Business as a primary connection in areas where fibre might be lacking, including remote locations. Straight away that says AT&T would still prefer customers to opt for fibre, but accepts that isn't always possible.

AT&T says Internet Air can also be used as a supplemental connection to distribute workload, or in case the primary, wired network goes down. Businesses on the larger side, particularly those that have some kind of mission critical aspect to their operation, might go for this.

The primary selling points of FWA are of course low-hassle and cost.

Customers simply put the FWA hub on a window sill, plug it in, and switch it on. And at $60 per month – plus unspecified fees – Internet Air for Business is cheaper than AT&T's entry-level Business Fibre service, which costs $70 per month for 300 Mbps. A premium version of Internet Air for Business is also available. That costs $100, and prioritises the first 250 GB of a customer's data per monthly billing cycle at times when the network is busy.

AT&T hopes FWA will take some of the sting out of the ongoing declines at its business fixed-line operation.

For the final three months of 2023, revenues at the division were down 10.3% year-on-year, driven partly by lower demand for legacy voice and data services.

Discussing those numbers on the results call, CEO John Stankey said AT&T is trying to turn around its performance by going after the mid-sized business market. He also noted that overall, AT&T's EBITDA in that particular segment is growing when wireless and wireline earnings are combined.

"More and more businesses are able to run the core of their company on a wireless infrastructure. And you're seeing some of that put the pressure on the wireline side of the business, but we're benefiting from that on the pickup on the other side," he said. "And when we talk about things like fixed wireless access and AT&T Internet Air being an opportunity for us, we will be in a much better position this year...to do some of that."

Those comments were made in January, and now – a mere two months later – AT&T is ready to deliver.

"In order for companies to grow, customers are telling us they need diverse connectivity options, the ability to connect new locations quickly, and are increasingly willing to adopt a converged connectivity approach," said Mike Troiano, SVP of product and pricing, at AT&T Business. "Together, AT&T Business Fibre and AT&T Internet Air for Business enables more business locations across the nation and delivers the value and flexibility businesses need from a leading nationwide broadband connectivity provider."

Yet again though, another reference to a fibre product in an announcement about FWA, despite FWA's undeniable popularity in the US.

According to a report by Leichtman Research Group earlier this month, the number of FWA subscribers in the US doubled in 2023 to reach 7.8 million, compared to 3.7 million at the end of 2022. That still pales in comparison to the 106.8 million fixed-line broadband customers, but there is a lot more headroom in the FWA market.

T-Mobile and Verizon cottoned onto that. With nearly 4.8 million FWA customers, T-Mobile has the edge over Verizon, which has just under 3.1 million. AT&T is not included in Leichtman's calculations, having only started rolling out FWA last August.

However, AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches said during that aforementioned results call that there were 93,000 Internet Air customers at the end of 2023, and the service is now available in 35 locations, more than double the number there were back in August.

Not bad for a service that's only a few months old, but there is still a yawning gap between AT&T and its competitors.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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