The jury is still out on when exactly 5G will be fully deployed, but Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T’s CEO, told the New York Times he has a “vision for the future” if AT&T’s $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner becomes a reality.
Stephenson told the Times that consumers’ smartphone data connection will be so fast that television can be downloaded in fewer than five seconds straight to your phone, thanks to 5G. He predicts 5G will compete with cable television services, and “will be sorely disappointed” if that didn’t happen by 2021.
While 5G may offer connectivity at least 100 times faster than current speeds, the Times noted that may not happen for at least a decade. Additionally, carriers and telecom innovators have yet to agree on how exactly the vision will become a reality. Bengt Nordstrom, co-founder of telecommunications consulting firm Northstream, told the Times that no resolution is expected until at least 2020.
As with almost everything, cost is a factor. A wireless network capable of handling higher speeds doesn’t happen without investment. Craig Moffett, Senior Research Analyst at MoffettNathanson, told the Times that he questions where the money is going to come from in Stephenson’s 5G vision for AT&T/Time Warner. Moffett also questioned how acquiring Time Warner will help AT&T when it comes to Stephenson’s vision for 5G, when it will add more debt to the company.
Tom Keathley, AT&T’s senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, told the Times the company’s goal “was to build a nationwide network that ‘enables our customers to view video where and on whatever device they choose’ and that 5G would rely on a combination of types of connections.” AT&T is heavily involved in testing across the nation, recently demonstrating 5G technology with Ericsson in Austin, Texas. Some say that limitations for AT&T may have to do with cost, and that the company may have to deploy 5G “only in the densest cities like New York and San Francisco” in the beginning.
Additionally, since 5G will work with millimeter wave technology that transmits data at shorter wavelengths and also distances, the Times said that AT&T will “need to install a larger number of networks throughout the country to cover it in 5G.” Dave Burstein, the editor of DSL Prime, a telecommunications newsletter, told the Times AT&T would need around a million 5G networks nationwide, up from 70,000 cell sites it now operates. He said it would be “impossible to have a widespread network that quickly,” referring to Stephenson’s hopes of a cable TV competitor by 2021.
“If you’re trying to curry favor in Washington and get a deal sold, the one thing you can dangle in front of regulators is competition,” he said. “But the obvious weak point in the argument is it’s not clear how owning Time Warner helps AT&T deploy more 5G.”