AT&T executives are touting the speed of FirstNet, the company’s dedicated public safety network that it built through a public-private partnership. During an Oppenheimer investor conference, AT&T CFO John Stephens said that based upon the company’s own independent testing, FirstNet is “significantly” faster than AT&T’s own core network and faster than any other commercial network. The reason FirstNet is so much faster is because it was built on a dedicated communications platform and uses dedicated spectrum.
AT&T is in the process of transitioning FirstNet to 5G, however, it is currently using LTE technology. According to Stephens, FirstNet has 1.5 million connections and is authorized for use by more than 13,000 government agencies. Stephens declined to talk about the churn rate on FirstNet, but said that the quality of service that these subscribers are getting is creating a lot of momentum for the network.
He added that many FirstNet customers are making multiple connections — typically two to three connections are sold per person. Stephens said that they are not just buying a device for themselves but also buying for a family member such as a spouse and also adding a connected device such as a tablet.
Interestingly, AT&T is also broadening its definition of first responders to include nurses and doctors or even repairmen who are needed to restore power after a storm. “Our first responder vision is wider and that gives us the opportunity to expand further,” Stephens said.
During the recent severe storms that impacted the Northeastern U.S., Stephens said that the company had some sites down and used cell sites on wheels (COWS) to temporarily restore service. He also said that the company owns some durigibles that can be used to fly into locations and restore service, although in this case they were not used because of the severe winds.
AT&T won the 25-year FirstNet contract three years ago. FirstNet is an independent authority within the U.S. Commerce Department, authorized by Congress in 2012.
Stephens also addressed AT&T’s 5G rollout — the company announced July 23 that its 5G network is available nationwide, covering 205 million consumers with an expansion into 40 new markets. Stephens said that the speed of the 5G network will improve as the year progresses and as the company turns on dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). In June AT&T said that DSS was live in parts of its network and that it would introduce DSS throughout its network in the second half of this year.
He also said that AT&T saw a big appetite from consumers for 5G devices starting at the end of June and he expects that to continue. However, he also added that many of the early 5G applications have been more beneficial for corporate customers. He expects consumer 5G applications such as multi-player gaming and entertainment will evolve over time. He also believes sports-related 5G applications will gain traction once sporting events start to occur again after being shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, when asked about competition from cable MVNOs, such as Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile, Stephens said that the cable companies are mainly focused on bundles that include wireless with their broadband and video subscriptions and that while they are attracting customers, they don’t seem to be interested in growing their footprints. He also said he doesn’t believe they are necessarily profitable for the cable companies. “Are they hitting the industry marks on margins and profitability? No, I don’t think they are.”