AT&T’s board has not asked Randall Stephenson to retire

AT&T Randall Stephenson
Stephenson said the capacity upgrades to AT&T's network are like nothing he's seen in his 38 years in networking.(FierceWireless)

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference this morning in New York, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended AT&T’s choice of John Stankey as the company’s president and chief operating officer. Stankey will also continue to head up AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit.

Stephenson said today that he’s “been asked a thousand times” if Stankey is his heir apparent. “First of all, the board hasn’t informed me I’m retiring yet,” joked Stephenson. “But, I will say if Stankey is successful at running this play over the next year, he’s in a pretty good position.”

AT&T and Stephenson were criticized last week by activist investor Elliott Management, which complained that Stankey was chosen too quickly and without thoughtful consideration.

RELATED: Elliott trashes AT&T management and its execution in wireless

But, Stephenson said the list was short in terms of executives qualified to run AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit and “pair it with the distribution of a major communications company.”

Asked about wireless, Stephenson said AT&T will have a nationwide 5G footprint by mid 2020. He didn’t say when average consumers will be able to access AT&T’s 5G network. Currently, it’s only offered to business customers.

Boosting network capacity

He likes to talk about the company’s FirstNet win, and how it’s helping AT&T to gain efficiencies in simultaneously deploying FirstNet and 5G. “To build this nationwide network….you have to go climb every cell tower. This is expensive to do across the entire country,” he said. But, AT&T is also deploying 5G equipment during those tower climbs.

RELATED: AT&T surpasses 750K FirstNet connections

He added that AT&T is also boosting its existing network with these tower climbs. “Over the course of about three years, we’re increasing the entire nation-wide capacity of the AT&T wireless network by 50%,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for almost 38 years, and those words have never come out of my mouth.”

Looking toward 5G, he said it will bring much more than faster speeds and lower latency. “You’re moving into an era of connectivity that we haven’t conceived of before,” he said. “This is a different scale.” He said with 4G, a cell tower can handles thousands of simultaneous devices, but “when you go to 5G, that becomes millions. Millions of simultaneous connections are now feasible in a given square mile.”