AT&T to Upgrade Cell Tower Sites As Part of FirstNet Buildout

AT&T says the FirstNet opt-in process is happening faster than the carrier expected. Twelve states have now chosen to opt-in to the first nationwide mobile broadband network for first responders in the early days of the election period. AT&T Senior EVP and CFO John Stephens told attendees of the Oppenheimer 20th Annual Technology, Internet and Communications Conference on Tuesday, it plans to make the build both cost and time efficient.

AT&T had some WCS spectrum not yet employed “in any significant way and with the 20 MHz to 700 MHz that we get from FirstNet and the funding from FirstNet to put in the service, we can put all three 2/10s or all 60 MHz of spectrum in the service at the same time,” said Stephens, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “So it’s very efficient, one pay for one tower climb and get three units of spectrum put in service at the same time.”

He explained the majority of the $6.5 billion FirstNet fund will go towards CapEx once AT&T meets the milestones set out in the five-year contract. The carrier expects to begin the build this year and has already begun for states that have opted-in. AT&T has the ability to give states that have opted-in, “relentless preemption,” meaning “if a network has … capacity for 10 calls, and 10 calls are being used and a firefighter needs to get on, one of the 10 people gets muted off and the firefighter gets it.”

Asked whether AT&T needs all five years that are allotted for the build, Stephens said much depends on how fast the opt-in process goes. The company wants to upgrade its cell sites to enable the use of future technology. “We will climb that tower once [and] do whatever financially we can at the tower, controlling the antennas with software.”  

August 10, 2017                 

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