AT&T’s march to nationwide 5G coverage

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Execs aiming for nationwide 5G coverage this summer

Between the FirstNet build out, low-band 5G expansion and limited introduction of dynamic spectrum sharing, AT&T’s network team has been busy this year. By the latest count, some form of 5G, either using millimeter wave spectrum or 850 MHz, is currently available in some 355 markets covering around 160 million PoPs.

In a June 18 interview, company CTO and President of AT&T Labs Andre Fuetsch said, “We’re proud to say we’re going to be nationwide with 5G here later this summer. So we’re really thrilled with that.”

Speaking with Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche during the virtual Wells Fargo Telecom 5G Forum, Fuetsch said the nationwide angle hinges on low-band 5G coverage and millimeter wave, available in 35 cities, is part of “a holistic approach to 5G, to covering our consumers, but also, we have a concerted effort around our enterprise customers as well. So a lot going on in manufacturing, in healthcare, entertainment, as you can imagine, with augmented reality, mixed reality experiences. So it’s a very broad strategy that we’re going after with 5G.”

In terms of consumer take, Fuetsch said AT&T expects to have around 15 devices for sale by the end of 2020, but the real kicker will likely come with a 5G-compatible Apple iPhone. “With the history of AT&T and Apple goes back to the beginning of the iPhone. So we’re pretty excited, and we’re waiting for their plans. And of course, when they’re ready to launch, we’re going to be right there. So we think that’s going to be a pretty big and important part of the 5G device portfolio when that becomes available.”

As for FirstNet–AT&T’s build out of a dedicated first responder network using 20 megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum–Fuetsch said the construction is ahead of schedule sitting at about 80% completion. He said so far some 12,000 first-responder agencies account for around 1.3 million connections.

While he didn’t speak specifically about AT&T’s plans around the upcoming CBRS and C-band auctions, “We’re very interested in the mid-band space,” Fuetsch said. “What’s unique, or I should say different, about the mid-band is it kind of has that good balance of propagation characteristics and speed, hence being in the middle there. The other thing, too, I’d say about mid-band is when you look at 5G deployments outside of the U.S., those have been predominantly focused in that spectrum space already. So the technology is very proven.”

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