Fiber Is Fundamental to AT&T’s Long-Term Success
I recently had the opportunity to spend two days with AT&T executives and its management team in New Orleans during the NCAA Final Four Men’s Tournament. AT&T is a sponsor of March Madness. I loved how the company aired a series of TV spots involving spokeswoman Lily interviewing her possible “replacements” while she attended the grand ball. My favorite is Matt Stafford who poetically talks about comparing swapping an old phone to a new one – a hilarious punch on his road to success from the Detroit Lions to his recent Super Bowl victory with the Rams of L.A.!
One of the days involved traveling to New Orleans, visiting a handful of sites where the telecom giant has rolled out 5G, fiber and one of twenty depots that supports its Network Disaster Relief (NDR) team ). Therefore, I’d like to share my thoughts on what I found compelling during my four-stop tour with a handful of analysts and journalists, as well as Scott Mair, who heads AT&T’s engineering and operations. .
5G and disaster recovery in the wild
I’ve always loved the architectural beauty of the Big Easy, dating back to my visits as a co-ed college for Mardi Gras. The neighborhoods are picture-perfect, from the shotgun houses on Magazine Street to the stately residences that dot St Charles Avenue in the Garden District. It is therefore not surprising that the permit process to erect and install small cells is difficult in New Orleans. On the first leg of the city tour, we visited a neighborhood near the French Quarter to see the location of the 5G mmWave pole mounts. Surprisingly, the aesthetic incorporates a gas lamp fixture and doesn’t look obtrusive. AT&T also partners with infrastructure providers such as Ericsson to deploy extremely compact radios mounted on traffic lights with a standard electrical connection. This is an effective combination of small cell deployment scenarios that should continue to streamline operators’ 5G deployment process.
Our second stop was a visit to AT&T’s NDR depot. It’s no secret that New Orleans is prone to hurricanes, as evidenced by Katrina and, more recently, Ida. Mr. Mair takes preparedness seriously to ensure customers are not without vital communications during natural disasters. To that end, AT&T has invested a staggering $650 million in assets across twenty locations across the United States. The staged equipment is undoubtedly on par with that of first responders – from amphibious vehicles and trailers stacked to SatCOLTs and Compact Rapid Deployable (CRD) units. These serve as vital communication links that leverage geosynchronous satellite connectivity for the backhaul to support 4G LTE-based communication. AT&T is also exploring the use of the burgeoning Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite backhaul to support future 5G connectivity. However, all the equipment in the world is useless without a game plan, and the AT&T team is ready, having documented many disaster recovery experiences in manuals. Another factor in favor of the operator in ensuring communications resilience is its vital role in building the FirstNet public safety communications network. FirstNet’s mission is to deploy, operate, maintain and enhance the first nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders and to bring together what were historically disparate and siled communication systems. From my perspective, AT&T’s NDR program and FirstNet’s capabilities give it an unmatched ability to deliver ultra-high reliability in uncertain times, especially against competitor Verizon which I spent time in 2018 to visit similar capacities.
Fiber completes the field trip
AT&T has built a multibillion-dollar business on broadband, and fiber is key to carriers’ success in delivering multi-gig speeds to its subscribers. Our third stop was to visit an ongoing aerial fiber installation in Metairie, a suburb outside the city limits. In fiber installations, clearance requirements often call for installation along telephone poles in the air rather than in the ground. Aerial also offers a lightning-fast way to migrate existing cable customers to faster speeds to support video streaming and the explosion of home automation devices, including video cameras, smart thermostats and home security systems. DIY. However, Mr. Mair shared that over time, especially in areas such as Louisiana prone to high winds and weather, in-ground deployment is favored because of the protection and resilience provided. This makes sense because fiber provides the most robust backhaul medium for 5G mobile network deployment over microwave and satellite.
Our final leg of the New Orleans tour took place at an AT&T (CO) central office located in the heart of downtown. COs play a vital role in facilitating the switch to a telecom provider. I was blown away by AT&T’s facilities. The multi-story building houses switches, some dating back decades, massive generators, cooling towers, battery backup systems, and more to maintain connectivity for as long as possible. Interestingly, in the history of the building, which dates back to the 1920s, the building has never lost power. In fact, during Hurricane Katrina, when downtown New Orleans was flooded and the utility grid failed, AT&T CO never lost power. The highlight of the visit was seeing the underground area, the cable vault. There, I saw decades-old first-hand copper cables alongside newer fiber cables. It provided a unique perspective on the amount of cables that run under the streets of major metropolitan areas.
Spending time with AT&T has proven to be eye-opening to see the infrastructure and resources behind its operational curtain. What I took away the most was how vital the operator’s investment in fiber is to its overall converged connectivity portfolio. For one thing, fiber is a major revenue and ARPU driver for AT&T’s broadband business. It also provides essential backhaul capabilities to support high-performance and resilient 5G network construction. Other carriers may view fiber as a commodity, but from my perspective, it’s critical to AT&T’s long-term success.
Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analysis firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advice, and/or advice to many high-tech companies in the industry, including AT&T and Verizon, cited or linked. to this article. I do not hold any ownership interests in the companies listed in this column.