AT&T CEO Talks up 5G: Deploying small cells, China/Huawei – Security or Critical U.S. Infrastructure Risk?

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said China still lags behind the U.S. in the 5G race (for dubious reasons- see comment in box below this article), but slow cell site permitting processes in the U.S. and heavy Chinese investment, coupled with Huawei’s 5G dominance, could change the situation. Also, European carriers that use Huawei equipment in 4G networks are unable to switch suppliers for 5G networks because “Huawei is not allowing interoperability to 5G-— meaning if you are 4G, you are stuck with Huawei for 5G,”  said Stephenson during an interview with Carlisle Group co-founder David Rubenstein at the Economic Club in Washington DC.

“When the Europeans say we got a problem — that’s their problem. They really don’t have an option to go to somebody else…To me, the biggest risk is not that the Chinese government might listen in on our phone conversations or mine our data some how if we use their equipment. That’s not the issue,” he said.

Stephenson is worried about how the 5G equipment could eventually be connected to millions of devices tied to critical  U.S. infrastructure — including autonomous cars, manufacturing floors, robotics, refineries and traffic management in cities.  “We have to ask ourselves a question: If that much of our infrastructure will be attached to this kind of (5G) technology, do we want to be cautious about who is the underlying company behind that technology? We damn well better be,” Stephenson said.

AT&T’s CEO is very optimistic about 5G technology, claiming it “will be the most transformative of all the Gs … you can’t conceive all the services that 5G implies.”

But in a 5G world millions of “things” will be connected and located within a square mile.  To make that possible, AT&T will deploy hundreds of thousands of small cell sites throughout the U.S.  They will be placed on light poles, sides of buildings, roof tops and other structures.

According to the AT&T CEO, 5G is a more efficient technology, delivering a better smartphone user experience, but it won’t be cheaper than 4G.  AT&T has not “worked out what or pricing arithmetic looks like,” Stephenson said.

Regarding 5G replacing smartphone screens with Internet video enabled smart eye glasses, Stephenson said:

We carry around these devices and they’re bigger than they should be, because there’s a lot of computing in here, there’s a lot of storage in here. When you get to 5G, all that computing, all that storage goes away — it’s back in the network. These form factors, some would say they shrink.

I say they go away. It is conceivable that we’re going to be moving into a world without screens, a world where this [points to his eye glasses] is your screen. You don’t need any more of a form factor than this, once the computing and storage requirements move out and into the network. And guys like you [waving to the TV cameras in the back] can think very differently about how you deliver your content to your customers. It becomes a delivery without screens. It’s just a totally different experience. …

AT&T is right at the very center of all this because, if you ask yourself: Five years from now, in this room, will you be consuming more or less global bandwidth. More? Who thinks more? Will you be consuming more or less premium entertainment? More? Well, I like where we are on both of those.

You can watch and listen to Stephenson’s 52 1/2 minute talk here.



AT&T says its leading wireless and fiber network, including investments in new technology such as 5G, will provide the network bandwidth required as customers increase engagement with premium video and emerging 4K and virtual reality content.

AT&T is now a software company: “Software is increasingly at the heart of everything we do. Whether a patent or an open source project, software is the future of AT&T. Software is our thing,” AT&T’s Mazin Gilbert wrote in a blog post.


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10 thoughts on “AT&T CEO Talks up 5G: Deploying small cells, China/Huawei – Security or Critical U.S. Infrastructure Risk?

  1. AT&T has repeatedly stated they’ve deployed “standards based 5G” in 12 U.S. cities and Stephenson did so again in his March 20th talk. He also said China hasn’t deployed any live 5G networks yet – only 5G trials- which is the reason he thinks the U.S. is ahead of China in 5G. Does anyone buy that argument? HINT: What can you connect to AT&T’s 5G network today?

    Also note that 3GPP Release 15 “5G NR” had dozens of accepted change requests at the 3GPP Shenzen China meeting completed today (March 21, 2019). More importantly, 3GPP’s IMT 2020 RIT submission will be largely based on 3GPP Release 16 which will be a complete 5G package, including signaling/control plane and mobile packet core as well as ultra low latency/ultra high reliability.

    3GPP Release 16 has been delayed till sometime in early 2020 which puts the ITU-R WP 5D timetable for IMT 2020 completion at risk.

  2. China’s carriers dig deep for world-beating 5G

    China’s carriers are starting their long ascent to the 5G spending peak. Two of the country’s three largest mobile providers have indicated how much they will pay for the initial buildout of next generation technology this year, the first real hint of how they might approach a huge project being rolled out with a push from Beijing. Costs look manageable for now, but investors are not in the clear.

  3. April 1 2019 BARRON’S: AT&T and Verizon Are Going In Opposite Directions
    After years spent running their businesses in virtual lockstep, America’s largest phone companies are furiously heading in opposite directions.

    Verizon Communications (ticker: VZ) is doubling down on its network, while AT&T (T) is rapidly diversifying beyond the phone business. The Time Warner acquisition came just three years after a $66 billion deal for satellite-TV provider DirecTV.

    Both companies are reacting to the same external forces. Nine out of 10 Americans now have wireless phone service, and they are increasingly paying up for unlimited data plans. In that respect, the wireless market has never been better—but it may also be as good as it gets.

    “The industry right now is as healthy as it has been since 2012,” says J.P. Morgan analyst Philip Cusick, noting that years of bruising price wars have finally come to an end.

  4. From Engadget:AT&T claims it’s 1st US wireless carrier to top 1Gbps on a mobile 5G network

    The initial 5G rollout in the US has been underwhelming, in part because those vaunted gigabit-class speeds have been nowhere to be found. AT&T, at least, is inching closer to that goal. The provider has declared that it’s the first US telecom to top 1Gbps on a mobile 5G network, achieving the feat in “multiple cities” using Netgear’s 5G hotspot. In an interview with PCMag, the company’s Igal Elbaz described it as a virtue of improving software.

    On launch, AT&T’s 5G service could only make use of a lone 100MHz carrier for your connection, limiting speeds that were frequently not much better (or potentially worse) than LTE. The new approach aggregated four of those carriers, giving it that much more headroom even in real-world conditions. It should get faster still later in the year, when AT&T combines LTE and 5G in a single connection.

    The problem, as with virtually any 5G carrier (including Engadget parent company Verizon), is being in a position to take advantage of that speed. AT&T’s 5G is only available in certain areas in a handful of cities, and you need an invitation to buy the Netgear hotspot. Even then, the router’s WiFi isn’t fast enough to guarantee peak speeds. You’ll have to wait for 5G smartphones and WiFi 6-equipped hotspots before the technology can live up to is potential. This clearly illustrates 5G’s performance — it’s just going to be a long while before can expect to achieve that performance outside of ideal conditions.

    Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Verizon Media. Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

    Source: AT&T, PCMag

  5. AT&T expands 5G+ network to California, Austin, Nashville, and Orlando

    Less than four months after launching a mobile 5G network in parts of 12 U.S. cities, AT&T today expanded the network’s footprint with seven additional locations. The expansion includes the carrier’s first four 5G offerings in the state of California, as well as single-city additions in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas.

    AT&T’s 5G+ coverage list now includes some of California’s most populous cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. The carrier has also added Florida’s most popular tourist destination, Orlando, plus the capitals of Texas and Tennessee, Austin and Nashville, respectively. As was the case before, AT&T says its service is available in “select areas” of the cities, rather than completely covering them.

    Unlike other carriers, AT&T is specifically marketing three different types of “5G” service. The company differentiates between 5G+ based on millimeter wave technology, a slower but nationwide blanket of 5G, and its controversial, lawsuit-provoking “5G Evolution,” which is actually just late-stage 4G technology using speed-enhancing features. Today’s expansions are all 5G+ specific.

    One notable omission from today’s list is Las Vegas, Nevada, which was on AT&T’s list of expected “early 2019” 5G+ cities last September. Its place appears to have been taken by Austin for the time being.

    AT&T currently offers 5G+ service using a single device: Netgear’s Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. Unlike rival Verizon, which is now offering an early 5G smartphone option online and in select stores, AT&T’s Nighthawk sales page still doesn’t have a “buy now” link, instead asking customers “interested in trying out the Nighthawk” to provide contact information for an email or phone pitch.

    Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G is expected to become available for AT&T’s 5G+ network this spring, while a subsequent Samsung phone will connect to AT&T’s 5G+ and 5G towers. LG’s less expensive V50 ThinQ 5G phone is not yet expected to become available for AT&T 5G customers.

  6. AT&T Launches Mobile 5G Service in 7 More Cities

    AT&T is rolling out mobile 5G in parts of seven more cities in the US.

    The operator says it’s launching its 3GPP-based mobile 5G in parts of Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose with immediate effect. As a result, its 5G service using 39GHz millimeter wave spectrum is now available in parts of 19 cities.

    The operator is also planning the launch of a nationwide sub-6GHz 5G network: That will start rolling later this year. AT&T has not yet revealed exactly which frequencies will be used for that deployment.

    To that end, AT&T is planning to have “at least” three 5G mobile devices out this year. It has already launched the Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspot, even if that is not widely available yet.

    Samsung 5G smartphones are expected to be arriving soon as well. This could include a phone that will work with mmWave frequencies and a dual mode (low and high band) model in the second half of 2019.

  7. How China’s Huawei took the lead on 5G –Washington Post:
    As U.S. officials have pressured allies not to use networking gear from Chinese technology giant Huawei over spying concerns, President Trump has urged American companies to “step up” and compete to provide the next generation of high-speed, low-lag wireless service known as 5G.

    “We cannot allow any other country to outcompete the United States,” Trump said Friday at a White House event to unveil the administration’s next steps on 5G – a massive airwaves auction and a proposed $20 billion broadband infrastructure fund.

    There’s just one problem: Barely any U.S. companies manufacture the technology’s most critical components.

    The absence of a major U.S. alternative to foreign suppliers of 5G networking equipment underscores the growing dominance of Huawei, which has evolved into the world’s biggest supplier of telecom equipment, sparking fears within the Trump administration that a 5G network powered by Huawei’s wireless parts could endanger national security. And it throws into sharp relief the years-long retreat by U.S. firms from that market.

    Carriers such as Sprint and Verizon have moved swiftly to launch 5G services for consumers. But the wireless networking gear the industry relies on still comes from foreign suppliers: four companies – Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and China’s Huawei and ZTE – account for two-thirds of the global market for telecom equipment, according to analyst estimates.

    Some U.S. technology giants such as Cisco sell switches and routers that reside in the innermost parts of a carrier’s network. But despite its size, Cisco doesn’t compete in the market for “radio access,” or the wireless infrastructure that allows cell sites to connect with smartphones and other mobile devices.

    “There is no U.S.-based wireless access equipment provider today that builds those solutions,” said Sandra Rivera, a senior vice president at Intel who helps guide the chipmaker’s 5G strategy.

    It’s this part of the Internet ecosystem that is increasingly important as more devices and appliances gain wireless connectivity and smart capabilities. 5G is expected to shape technological innovation for years to come, providing mobile data connections for virtual-reality headsets, driverless cars and more. Proponents say 5G eventually will support download speeds of 1,000 megabits per second, roughly 100 times faster than today’s 4G standard.

    The rising global demand for 5G equipment highlights how the United States, a technology leader in other respects, is largely absent from the wireless networking industry. It reflects the decline of a once vibrant ecosystem of American companies that formerly went toe-to-toe with the likes of Nokia and Ericsson. And it puts a focus on Chinese firms such as Huawei, whose rise to prominence has come at the expense of Western networking titans and sparked a global campaign by U.S. officials eager to persuade allies not to allow Chinese equipment into their networks.

    At the dawn of the wireless age 30 years ago, U.S. companies jostled for primacy in wireless networking. Companies such as Motorola and Lucent – an offshoot of the old AT&T monopoly – were sources of innovation, exploring new ways of delivering voice and data wirelessly. It was Lucent, for example, that helped introduce Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA, a mobile technology that promised to improve the capacity of wireless carriers.

    But their fortunes declined around the turn of the century as they failed to keep pace with a changing market. No U.S. company stepped in to fill the gap as those companies faded – partly because of the growing strength of foreign alternatives and partly because of the immense scale required to survive in that line of business, according to industry experts.

    “Lucent basically collapsed because they didn’t have a big enough wireless arm to keep them afloat when the Internet backbone [business] collapsed” in the dot-com bust, said Roger Entner, a telecom analyst at Recon Analytics. “Motorola, over time, simply became less competitive because the other vendors had more economies of scale.”

    Motorola and Lucent’s wireless infrastructure businesses were soon gobbled up by Finland’s Nokia and France’s Alcatel, respectively. One reason the European companies proved so successful, Entner said, was because the European industry agreed from the start to develop a common standard for wireless communication, known as GSM, that all European telecoms would share. By contrast, the industry in North America took a looser approach, with some carriers backing network technologies that weren’t mutually compatible.

    Take CDMA. First developed for mobile use in the 1990s, the standard was technologically superior, allowing carriers such as Verizon to pump more traffic through their cell sites over the same amount of time compared with alternative standards. But the technology created headaches for consumers who found they couldn’t keep their phones when they switched from Verizon to a network like T-Mobile’s, which ran on GSM.

    While the American approach allowed for more technological experimentation and innovation, a fragmented market based on competing standards made it more challenging for U.S. wireless equipment sellers to amass a large customer base.

    Today, Nokia and Ericsson are the top providers of telecommunications networking gear in North America and are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the world. The two companies each recorded revenue of about $25 billion last year.

    But both have been surpassed by Huawei, which in the span of three decades has become the world’s largest provider of telecom equipment.

    “I do think the Western companies did underestimate how credible Huawei was,” said Paul de Sa, a telecom industry analyst and co-founder of the advisory firm Quadra Partners. “There were executives who basically laughed [at the idea] that Huawei or ZTE could compete.”

    Founded in the late 1980s by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer for the Chinese military, Huawei began as a technology supplier for Chinese customers. But by the early 2000s, Huawei had begun selling globally, and now does a robust business not only in network equipment but also in consumer smartphones and enterprise services. Last month, the privately held company reported that it had finished 2018 with revenue of $107 billion, up 20 percent despite the U.S. campaign. Profits rose 25 percent, the company said, to $8.8 billion.

    To give another perspective on Huawei’s enormous influence, the company’s chief rivals, Nokia and Ericsson, account for 17 percent and 13 percent of the global market for telecom equipment, respectively, according to figures compiled by the research firm Dell’Oro Group.

    Huawei’s market share, at 28 percent, is nearly as large as both of them combined.

    Despite an early reputation for cheap knockoff hardware, Huawei today is recognized for low prices, reliable equipment and engaging customer service, analysts say. As Huawei has invested in its own research and development, even Western telecom companies acknowledge that Huawei’s products are as good as – if not better than – competing equipment from Nokia or Ericsson.

    “About 25 percent of our members have Huawei or ZTE” in their networks, Carri Bennet, an attorney for the Washington-based Rural Wireless Association, told lawmakers at a recent House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

    Gordon Smith, the chief executive of Sagent, a network intelligence and analytics company formerly known as Clover Telecom, estimated that Huawei gear typically costs “tens of percents” less than the competition’s.

    With the support of China’s state-owned development bank, Huawei also has been able to undercut competitors with attractive financing for its products. In February alone, Huawei announced partnerships with wireless carriers in eight countries, including Iceland, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

    It doesn’t hurt that Huawei serves a massive domestic market in China, which grants it tremendous advantages of scale that many tech companies, including American ones, are hungry to access themselves. China is so critical to Apple, for example, that the iPhone maker blamed the country’s economic slowdown for a downward revision in Apple’s recent quarterly sales estimates – the company’s first such warning in 15 years.

    Huawei’s success, however, has been clouded by allegations of intellectual property theft.

    The U.S. government accused two Huawei units this year of trying to copy a robotic arm used by T-Mobile to test smartphones. (Huawei has pleaded not guilty.) In the past, Huawei has also been accused of stealing technology from Cisco; the two firms became locked in a legal dispute in 2003 and settled months later, after Huawei conceded that Cisco-made code had ended up in a Huawei product. The code was later removed.

    Then there is Nortel Networks’ discovery in 2004 that hackers – traced to IP addresses in Shanghai – had stolen nearly 1,500 sensitive files from the Canadian telecom giant’s computer systems. The company’s subsequent investigation failed to prove China’s direct involvement, much less Huawei’s. But after analyzing the stolen files – which bore cryptic names such as “Photonic Crystals and Large Scale Integration,” “Eco_Strategy.ppt” and “HDX R2 Standard Reconfigurations Test Plan – Draft 0.2†³ – and a months-long probe, Nortel’s security adviser at the time, Brian Shields, became convinced Huawei benefited indirectly from the breach. The file names, a list of which Shields provided to The Washington Post, have not been previously reported.

    “Nobody would be interested in these kinds of documents other than a competitor,” Shields said. “In my opinion, looking at what the hackers went after, it is likely these documents made it to Huawei.”

    That seemingly ancient history is newly relevant, as U.S. officials argue that incorporating Huawei gear into U.S. carriers’ 5G networks poses a significant spying risk.

    At an industry conference in Barcelona in February, U.S. officials urged allies in bilateral meetings not to use Huawei equipment over concerns that it could enable eavesdropping by authoritarian regimes. U.S. partners largely acknowledge the risk but have asked for more concrete evidence to back up the case.

    “The Europeans really keep pushing for this concept of, ‘Where’s the smoking gun?’ ” said a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely about the closed-door meetings. “They say, ‘Hey, we don’t want security threats, either . . . but you can’t just come in here and tell us that there is a unity of interest between Beijing and Huawei and have that be the end of your presentation.’ ”

    Some analysts say that in a previous era, America’s allies might have been more sympathetic to the Trump administration’s message. But Trump’s conduct, they say – berating NATO allies, canceling a visit to a World War I memorial because of rain, calling Europe a “foe” on trade – has not helped.

    “In a world where the U.S. had more soft power,” Entner said, “I’m pretty sure the Europeans would be a lot more receptive.”

    [email protected]

  8. Could US still win 5G race? –Global Times

    At a press conference on Friday, US President Donald Trump and other US officials declared that the US “must win” the race in ultra-fast 5G technology and argued the US was well-positioned to win. But that has been met with skepticism and criticism in China. Chinese industry analysts noted that not only did US officials exaggerate the US’ capabilities but they also brought geopolitics and its “America first” zero-sum theory into the development of a crucial technology that will have implications for not one country but the entire world for years to come.

    During the press conference, Trump said “the race to 5G is a race America must win… It’s a race that we will win.”

    Citing several reports that said that the US was leading in the race, Ajit Pai, the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, remarked that the US “is now well-positioned to win the race to fast, secure and reliable 5G.”

    Though the US is one of the leading players in the development of 5G technology, analysts said that the race is far from over and the US might have much catching up to do in many areas, including engineering standard setting, equipment manufacturing, 5G mobile phones and business and application development.

    Catching up

    “At the moment, I think the only advantage the US has is chips,” a Beijing-based industry insider, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Thursday. “Even that gap is being closed by Chinese firms like Huawei.”

    The insider pointed out that Chinese companies have been responsible for half of the global engineering standards for 5G, with China Mobile alone contributing more than 90 sets of standards, while the US only has a few.

    In terms of equipment manufacturing, the world’s top five makers are Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Samsung. Chinese companies such as Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi are also leading in development of 5G mobile devices, the insiders said. In terms of 5G devices production, “China is the dominant player,” he said.

    “So I don’t know where their confidence comes from,” the insider said. “It sounds more like expressions of worry that it is falling behind.”

    Just over a week before the press conference, the Defense Innovation Board, which is affiliated with the US Department of Defense, released a report that warned about China’s advances in 5G and its “security risks” to the US.

    The report pointed out China will have over 350,000 5G base stations, nearly 10 times as many as in the US, and that Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE are pushing 5G development globally and China’s handset and internet applications and services are likely to become dominant globally.

    “Even if [the US] were to restrict use of Chinese equipment suppliers domestically, the United States is not a big enough market in wireless to prevent China’s 5G suppliers from continuing to increase market share globally,” it concluded.

    Though some US carriers such as AT&T claimed they had launched 5G or plan to soon, “they are mostly likely just slightly upgrading from 4G and not offering real 5G,” said Fu Liang, a veteran analyst in the telecom industry.

    Fu told the Global Times on Sunday that for technological advances that have as wide implications as 5G does, and are also as complex as 5G, “there is no simply way to say who is leading and who is not. Frankly, from the consumers’ standpoint, it’s not about who wins but how we can get the best services.”


    What’s more concerning, analysts say, with regard to the comments from the US officials is that they politicized the development of 5G technology, which likely to pose unnecessary obstacles for further advancement.

    “Putting politics ahead of technology development and markets will no doubt further complicate market competition and largely increase the difficulty of 5G development,” said Fang Xingdong, founder of Beijing-based technology think tank ChinaLabs.

    In what analysts describe the “America first” zero-sum theory in 5G, Trump said that “we cannot allow any other country to out-compete the US in this powerful industry of the future… We just can’t let that happen.”

    Fang said that although Trump did not mention China by name, he was clearly aiming at China when describing “rivals.” “In facing this 5G race propelled by the US, [China] must enhance its strategic will as well as stay rational and calm,” he said.

  9. A bruising fight is under way between the U.S. and China over 5G, which promises superfast data transmission that will underpin autonomous driving vehicles, robotic assembly lines, remote surgery and other emerging businesses.

    Telecommunications operators are expected to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years to build out the networks. In China, the government and major carriers have said they plan trials of 5G in 2019 and aim to roll it out on a larger scale in 2020. In the U.S., companies are expected to test pilot network installations by the end of the year and the government is preparing to auction off broad swaths of airwaves.

    The U.S. has effectively barred Huawei from domestic 5G networks and is trying to persuade allies to do likewise, saying that the Chinese company is beholden to the Communist Party and thus presents an espionage and security risk in networks that will be pervasive.

    Huawei denies the allegations. The firm is the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, a leader in superfast 5G technology and a top seller of smartphones globally.

    Huawei has long said that it doesn’t pose a cybersecurity threat and has denied all of the legal charges against it.

    Recently, its founder, the former Chinese army engineer Ren Zhengfei, has given a series of interviews defending the company while also praising President Trump, telling CNBC in an interview set to air this week that Mr. Trump is a “great president” whose tax policies are “helping revitalize enterprises.”

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