AT&T serves up 5G plans with a healthy dose of pragmatism
AT&T will spend $6 to $8 billion between 2022 and 2024 to deliver 5G services over its new midband C-band spectrum licenses to 70 to 75 million people in 2022 and 100 million people in “early” 2023, the operator said during its analyst event Friday.
Those targets sit behind the goals that executives from Verizon and T-Mobile outlined during their own analyst events earlier this week. Specifically, T-Mobile said it will cover 250 million people with its midband 2.5GHz spectrum by the end of 2022 without any increase in its capital expenses. Verizon, meanwhile, said it expects to cover 250 million people by 2024 via spending an extra $10 billion on its network over the next three years.
Perhaps in response, AT&T executives shied away from the kind of grandiose, change-the-world statements about C-band spectrum and 5G that peppered the Verizon and T-Mobile analyst events.
“There’s not one solution that’s going to meet all consumer demands or expectations,” said AT&T’s Jeff McElfresh, CEO of the company’s communications business, in explaining the operator’s focus on both 5G and fiber. “Our value proposition is to serve customers how they want to be served with enough bandwidth and capacity and speed, and we’ll let the technology service architecture meet that demand or that need.”
McElfresh also said that there are significant challenges in deploying midband spectrum like the C-band. “When you get up into the midband segment of spectrum, while it offers us really wide bandwidth for speed and capacity, its coverage characteristics don’t penetrate [buildings and other locations] as effectively as the lowband does,” he said. “And so as we design our network and our offers in the market, you will see us densify our wireless network on the top of our investments in fiber.”
That’s a decidedly different stance from Verizon. For example, Verizon’s Adam Koeppe told Light Reading this week that the operator would be able to cover the “vast majority” of its ultimate C-band buildout target – 250 million people – using its existing cell-site locations.
T-Mobile executives, though, have acknowledged that they will have to increase the number of cell towers in the operator’s network to successfully deploy a midband 5G network.
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