AT&T and Verizon tout fiber firepower for 5G

On Tuesday, both AT&T and Verizon pointed out how reliant their 5G wireless networks are on fiber – and how they’re reinforcing their investments to handle all the 5G data traffic that’s coming down the pike.

Verizon said it’s “supercharging” the core of its fiber network by upgrading older router equipment with new gear provided by Juniper Networks. When it’s done, the upgrade will significantly increase the bandwidth needed to support wireless, home internet, enterprise, small business and its FIOS customers.

“Our fiber network is the largely invisible foundation that is a key driving force behind providing the scalability and reliability our customers need and expect,” said Kyle Malady, president of the company’s Global Networks and Technology, in a press release. “This new packet core will provide the reliability and capacity we need today, but more importantly will be able to scale to meet the forecasted future demands that will result from the incredible capabilities of our robust 5G network, the platform for 21st century innovation.”

Verizon says its 5G Ultra Wideband customers are seeing speeds up to 4 Gbps in some places, allowing them to do all kinds of things, like download and stream movies and TV shows in seconds. In June, Verizon announced that data traffic on its 5G Ultra Wideband network had already increased 249% and it expects to see exponentially higher increases as more customers adopt the technology.

AT&T’s fast track

Rival AT&T has been talking about its fiber expansion for a while now. In a blog post by AT&T Network EVP Chris Sambar on Tuesday, AT&T said it already has the country’s largest fiber internet coverage, but “we’re not sitting back.”

Rather than resting on its laurels, AT&T is “out there building more fiber than anyone else, adding on average more than 350 customer locations per hour across the country,” Sambar said. “This fast track puts our fiber network on pace to cover more than 30 million locations by the end of 2025.”

Besides meeting the ever-increasing demands for internet connectivity, fiber is powering technologies like 5G and edge computing. Sambar said the fastest growing segment is small and medium business.

“For many, maturing 5G deployments are creating conditions for a ‘wireless first’ mindset to take hold,” Sambar wrote. “This is especially true where the only fixed assets are the 4 walls and roof of the building hosting the company.”

He pointed out how wireless also depends on fiber. “Remember, your smartphone connection is only as fast as the link from a cell tower or other antenna back to the internet,” he said. “So by design, our wireless traffic promptly moves out of the air and onto our much faster fiber network.”

The offload improves overall wireless performance, preserves spectrum for strictly mobile applications and cuts the transport cost per-byte, he added. “Looking just ahead, surging traffic over 5G will mean surging traffic over fiber – to which we say, “’Bring it on.’”

Of the Big 3 incumbents, the lone carrier out here is T-Mobile, which leases its fiber from other providers. T-Mobile launched a fiber broadband pilot service in New York City last year using a local partner, but  T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray has said on more than one occasion that T-Mobile has no interest in running its own fiber when the costs pencil out in its favor under the current strategy. In areas where AT&T and Verizon don’t have their own fiber, they’re in the same boat.