AT&T’s Possible Dream: “We Will Spend $5B Building One of the World’s Best Networks After Harvey.”

Man of La Mancha

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO, did not proclaim, “AT&T will spend $5B building one of the world’s best networks for Texas and Louisiana. That’s our contribution to the recovery after Harvey.” He should.

AT&T is a world leader in testing 5G mmWave small cells. They are adding three million lines of fiber home every year. There’s no reason they couldn’t focus both efforts in South Texas, performing a civic service without spending an additional dollar in capex.

They would probably actually come out ahead, as the $tens of billions in disaster relief would cover some of the cost.

Larry Babbio of Verizon responded that way to the World Trade Center. “Just watch us,” he replied to my suggestion Verizon bring fiber to lower Manhattan soon after 9/11. Verizon built Fios, which for more than a decade was the finest network in the Western World.  (Spain and France are now pulling ahead.)

Rajeev Suri of Nokia should support AT&T by offering to provide $5M in equipment for the build. He should also commit 50 of his best engineers and promise, “We will make sure AT&T has the equipment they need when they need it.” Both are already provided, of course, but it sounds good.

Nokia has $billion+ in contracts with AT&T, including most of the 12M lines of fiber home. They are fighting Ericsson for the potentially huge AT&T 5G contracts. ADTRAN and Calix beat out Nokia for the NG-PON2 5G backhaul deal at Verizon; they don’t want to lose at AT&T as well.

Any competent heroin dealer understands the value of giving a prospect a taste. This would be a great opportunity to get AT&T hooked on Nokia mmWave, Massive MIMO and 10-40G PON backhaul.


Tom Stanton of Adtran and Carl Russo of Calix are great salesmen unlikely to miss an opportunity. Adtran has AT&T’s contract, I believe, and was definitely on the short list for the huge fiber home deal. After early success in Verizon 5G backhaul, they want AT&T.

Both have a major trump card at AT&T: successful SDN deployments. Their SDN is in field use in dozens of access networks, some starting to scale. I see their work on the CORD and other Open Source mailing lists and events. AT&T is the world leader in converting to SDN,

As India, China, and Donald Trump press for domestic manufacture, U.S. companies like Adtran & Calix have a natural advantage at U.S. carriers. Neither does much manufacturing in the U.S., but for a contract the size of AT&T that could easily change.


Ajit Pai at the FCC should blog:

I will promptly waive any FCC regulations that slow the recovery from Hurricane Harvey. In particular, I encourage the companies involved to share resources to speed restoral of services. Going forward, if any regulations, especially spectrum rules, make it more difficult to offer the people of Texas and Louisiana the best possible network, I will set them aside.

I recognize that in some cases this will weaken competition. That’s likely to happen in any case. Technology change, especially the move to small cells for 5G mmWave, will make traditional competition harder to protect.

One network is cheaper than two. Two networks are cheaper than the four to seven usually necessary for competition to work well. In a 5G mmWave small cell future, four networks are highly unlikely across most of the United States.

Competition is a great way to reduce regulation, but sometimes competition is impractical. I hope the prediction that mmWave will be a competition killer proves incorrect. It’s too early to be sure.

Where competition is not working, I and my successors need to find other ways to protect consumers from market power.


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