AT&T Favoring Fiber Versus Fixed Wireless Access

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While there is a place for fixed wireless access (FWA), AT&T believes the future belongs to fiber to the home (FTTH), Pascal Desroches, AT&T Senior EVP & CFO, told the virtual Credit Suisse Communications Conference, this week. AT&T views fixed wireless access as a tool only to be used in places outside its footprint, according to Desroches, because of the demand for symmetrical speeds.

“Demand for excellent [internet] performance in the home will increase significantly,” Desroches said. “And so the only product that provides the capabilities that we’re going to need going forward is fiber. And that’s why we’re really, really energized and are increasing our investment in fiber.”  

The carrier is seeing increasing momentum in fiber additions, according to Desroches. In the second half of 2021, the carrier expects fiber-related revenues to grow faster than declines in legacy voice and copper, resulting in revenue growth.  

For AT&T, life going forward as a communications pure play means a culture change, he said, increasing the emphasis on customer satisfaction in mobility, consumer wireline and business wireline.

“In a world where you’re going to have increased demand from gaming, increased demand from online education, increased demand from telehealth services and remote work, I’m just not sure that the fixed wireless is going to satisfy consumers that are using more and more connectivity in their day-to-day lives,” Desroches said. “Performance in the home needs to be excellent. And I think fiber is the only product out there that delivers that.”

AT&T built out 14 million homes over the last five years and is at about 1 million broadband customers. It plans to expand its fiber footprint by an additional 3 million customer locations across more than 90 metro areas by the end of the year.

“In areas where AT&T has deployed its fiber network, the company has 10 percent higher market share than its competitors and about 70 percent of its gross adds are new to AT&T,” the carrier said at its Analyst & Investor Day in March. “In 2021, the company expects broadband revenue growth in the mid-single digits and expanding margins in its broadband business unit.”

In the 2022-2024 timeframe, AT&T expects to increase capital investment to around $24 billion annually, focused on 5G and fiber, according to Desroches. He also said the company plans to double the size of AT&T’s fiber footprint to about 30 million customer locations by year-end 2025. The carrier hopes to take advantage of new use cases with its integrated fiber deployment strategy and with penetration in areas where fiber has already been deployed.

“We think now is the time to really lean into our connectivity businesses,” Desroches said. “Think about what we learned during the pandemic. The importance of high-speed, but importantly both downlink and uplink speed, is really critical. And over time, we think the demands will only grow, in particular, demand for symmetrical speed.”

“And we think by having an integrated strategy, where we’re focused on both broadband and spectrum, 5G spectrum, we’re going to be better positioned than anyone in the United States,” he added.

By the way, in case you didn’t think you needed symmetrical high-speed internet, AT&T is giving new users a free six-month trial for Google’s cloud gaming platform Stadia.

By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor

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