AT&T exec highlights FirstNet performance amid COVID-19, spectrum interest
FirstNet performed well during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and AT&T is interested in acquiring mid-band spectrum to support the carrier’s wireless-broadband visions, an AT&T executive said yesterday.
Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications—the telecommunications arm of the corporate giant—said the company internally adapted well to the limitations associated with COVID-19 health restriction and “our network performed incredibly well” as usage spiked amid stay-at-home directives. This included providing broadband support to first responders, he said.
“Our FirstNet program really shined during the COVID response,” McElfresh said during a discussion at the virtual Bank of America Merrill Lynch TMT Conference, which was webcast. “And we continue to see high adoption of baseline circuits—such as fiber and VPN connectivity—to health-care providers and professionals in support of this pandemic.”
AT&T has altered some of its offerings to adapt to the COVID-19 environment. In some cases, these offerings will disappear as markets approach full reopening, while other aspects may become part of AT&T’s normal operating procedures, according to McElfresh.
“We are seeing new opportunity, and we’re seeing new ways in which we can accelerate some of our transformation activities that we announced late last year that gets after some costs but also serves for driving a bit more market momentum in key segments, like our wireless business, in key markets,” he said.
“I think you should expect AT&T will phase in and phase out many of these plays market by market, as commerce begins to recover, shoppers begin to make their way back out on the streets. [It’s] just not a one size fits all. I think it’s going to be a very dynamic and local market aspect that we’ve got to pay attention to.”
McElfresh said that AT&T will evaluate closely any mid-band spectrum that is made available on the market, such as the C-band frequencies (3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz) that the FCC plans to auction.
“We have not figured out, as an industry, how to break physics, and the laws of physics are pretty firm,” McElfresh said. “That is, you need not only spectrum that travels for coverage, but you also need chunks of it broad enough, so that you can fulfill a throughput promise that gets you into those approaching-gigabit speeds.”
By leveraging its 700 MHz Band 14 buildout obligations to fulfill its FirstNet contract during the past two-and-half years, AT&T also has deployed other spectrum bands and readied its network to offer to low-band 5G nationwide this summer.
“In that time frame, we’ve increased AT&T spectrum capacity that’s made available to the marketplace by 70%,” McElfresh said. “And you’ve seen our speeds of our network skyrocket to being best-in-class among the players, as of today.
“Going forward, if you want to provide gigabit-type speeds on a wireless network, it requires mid-band spectrum and lots of it in a clean, unencumbered approach. Therefore, we at AT&T are certainly evaluating all options that might be available to the industry … The big question will be, is it going to be unencumbered? And can it be put to use in an orderly fashion and enough time to fulfill the market demand?”