By Harro Ten Wolde
BARCELONA (Reuters) - AT&T's $48.5 billion purchase of DirectTV will give it the edge over U.S. rival Verizon in the roll-out of the next generation of cellular technology, AT&T's strategy chief said on Monday.
So-called 5G wireless networks are expected to offer 1,000-fold gains in capacity over existing networks, giving the potential to connect at least 100 billion devices with download speeds that can reach 10 gigabits per second (Gb/s).
To achieve that, wireless networks will need to be supported by existing fixed-line infrastructure.
So DirectTV's widespread fixed-line network will be a big boost for AT&T, Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan said in an interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"We are in a better position because we have a fixed line proposition which is becoming much more interesting now with 5G," Donovan said.
Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said: "AT&T has followed us in every turn of technology -- wireless and wired -- and they will again with 5G."
The global telecom industry will release official standards for 5G in 2018 but some players have begun planning test runs.
AT&T said this month it planned to have trials of 5G technology by the end of this year, while Verizon said late last year it would kick off trials in 2016.
Donovan also said AT&T would continue to oppose a proposal approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to let consumers swap pricey cable boxes for cheaper devices and apps.
The move was aimed at boosting competition in the $20 billion television set-top box market, while delivering a blow to major cable companies.
The FCC has opened up a discussion on the plan for the coming months.
"We will continue to be very vocal in our opposition," Donovan said, adding AT&T would plea for a software oriented solution, which would mean customers could keep their set-top box, while allowing competition.
(Additional reporting by Malathi Nayak in New York; Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)