Gigabit to Every Customer, Everywhere, is AT&T's Goal

There are continuing signs that concern about the pace of U.S. internet access upgrades and investment are likely unfounded. Nor is the pace of mobile bandwidth expansion slowing, either.

Comcast has pledged to upgrade its whole network to gigabit access, as have other bigger cable operators other than Charter Communications.

Verizon recently announced symmetrical gigabit service for eight million FiOS passings, while AT&T continues to add more metro areas for its own gigabit services.

Google Fiber, meanwhile, seems to be preparing for a big new test of its fixed wireless strategy.

If fixed wireless assaults mount, and as fiber-based gigabit offerings expand, the pace of investment pace of investment is going to remain high, for competitive reasons.

Mobile bandwidth also has grown substantially, with T-Mobile US and Dish Network gains in the 600-MHz auction, new activity to add millimeter wave spectrum on the part of AT&T and Verizon, and more coming as shared spectrum in the 3.5-GHz band becomes available, and the Federal Communications Commission moving to release huge amounts of new millimeter wave spectrum as well.

“What the return of unlimited really highlights, and that is the industry's position in terms of network capacity, because if the industry is going to stay with unlimited, we're prepared and can probably sustain it better than anyone else because of our spectrum position,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

“We now have more than 60 megahertz of fallow spectrum that we're ready to light up, and we'll be deploying all the bands simultaneously starting this fall,” said Stephenson. “Our goal is to put one gig speeds in our customers' hands no matter where they are on our network.”

Ironically, prospects for better market share gains in fixed network internet access might be more important, not less important, for the likes of Verizon and AT&T, now feeling the pressure of mobile segment losses.

“Broadband had a very strong quarter, with 115,000 subscribers added,” said AT&T CFO John Stephens. Also, “our fiber deployment is making inroads.”

That is important for a few reasons. Account gains might be easier to get in the fixed realm than the mobile segment of the business. Also, to the extent that fixed internet access is the foundation service in the consumer fixed networks business, more scale, and more market share, helps.

Lots of bandwidth also helps support video operations, the new lead application on the fixed and mobile networks.

AT&T fiber is now in 52 metro areas and marketed to 4.6 million customer locations, Stephens said. “ We expect to add two million fiber locations this year, to reach six million by the end of the year, and to meet our 12.5 million merger commitment goal by 2019.”

AT&T executives now speak of a “new world, where capacity, networks, and entertainment intersect.”

“A year from now, we may look back on the return to unlimited plans as the moment when the battle for network reach and capacity began,” said AT&T CFO John Stephens.
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