SDN combined with a surge in new technologies and untapped spectrum holdings are fueling considerable advances for AT&T’s network, CFO John Stephens said at Deutsche Bank’s Media, Internet and Telecom conference.
The timing of new technologies coming online, the FirstNet contract win, an expansion of fiber, and 5G deployments just getting underway is translating to a “dramatic leapfrog” for AT&T’s mobile business, he said. “We are getting a 50 percent increase on average nationwide in our spectral capacity over a three-year period.”
Massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), and four-way carrier aggregation are achieving new outcomes for AT&T that resolve many of the most challenging aspects of maintaining a network on multiple spectrum bands, he said. “What was challenging about our network before was that we had all the separate spectrum bands, we had all the separate highways, and now with carrier aggregations you can push them all together and use them as if they were one highway.”
Timing Is Everything
Because AT&T is putting all of this initial capacity and different technologies in place at once, it’s gaining a “step function above” its 4G LTE network as it evolves to 5G, Stephens said. AT&T is also reducing tower climbs by doing all of this at once, he added.
“When we climb a tower now … we are putting up equipment that is 5G enabled by software. So when the 5G software comes out and we want to turn our evolving networking into a 5G network, we can do it from a download or a data card or software update. We don’t have to climb it again,” Stephens said.
AT&T was the first U.S. carrier to launch a standards-based mobile 5G network, starting with a dozen markets late last year. It also virtualized the software control of 65 percent of its core network functions by the end of 2018, and intends to reach 75 percent control by 2020.
Stephens reiterated the carrier’s plan to reach nationwide 5G coverage by 2020, with a network that will cover a population of at least 200 million people. As more markets gain 5G coverage around the country, software will lead the way, he said.
“What we’re doing with our network improvements in this holistic approach from LTE evolving into 5GE and then going to 5G, we believe will provide all of our customers, our existing ones and all the new ones we will attract from FirstNet and other places, with a great experience,” Stephens said. “It will also, frankly bring our cost per megabit down considerably.”
From his perspective, AT&T is leading with the network and the rest will follow. “We want to lead in network, and that’s leading with FirstNet, with 5G, with fiber,” he said. The ability to put core network functions on software so AT&T can control, improve, and upgrade its network remotely is reaping benefits, Stephens added.
“As we go through this 5G build, we are convinced that business will lead in the innovation around 5G, whether it’s automated factories, whether it’s healthcare opportunities, whether it’s in a variety of IoT applications, the ability to use that 5G, that low latency… will be grabbed onto by business. And we believe that’ll be the first set of revenue growth and innovative applications,” he said.