Speaking at Wells Fargo (Virtual) TMT Summit, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh discussed momentum in AT&T’s wireless business, noting that AT&T’s consistent go-to-market strategy has driven improved market position supported by healthy wireless service revenue and EBITDA growth. McElfresh noted that over the past five quarters the company has delivered its best subscriber results in a decade, with nearly 4 million postpaid phone net additions, and 1.4 million fiber net additions. At the same time, wireless delivered its best-ever EBITDA in the third quarter of 2021, up 3.6% year over year.
McElfresh said his company added over 1.4 million fiber net adds in the last five quarters. That was based on AT&T’s conviction to reinvest in what they believe is a very future-forward technology in fiber that’s got superior advantages to any other kind of broadband connectivity offering (e.g. FWA, bundled copper pairs, cable, etc).
McElfresh told the audience that the company’s fiber expansion is “rekindling” its consumer broadband business and that he has a high degree of confidence that the company is hitting “game speed” when it comes to the number of homes passed with fiber that it is achieving every month.
AT&T had approximately 14 million homes passed with fiber as of year-end 2020 and is expected to increase that to 16.5 million homes passed by the end of this year. The company now has 5.7 million fiber to the premises/home customers, including Internet access, VPN, private line, virtual private line, etc.
McElfresh said that he believes AT&T has enough “weight” in the industry that it can work with vendors to overcome any supply chain delays (which the company warned about in July). He added that he has no concerns about achieving the 30 million locations by 2025 goal based upon the company’s current buildout pace. “I have no concerns about hitting the pace that we need to reach that,” he said.
“What I am focused on more than penetration levels is that we are demonstrating that we can step up our net add performance quarter to quarter.” In the third quarter, AT&T added 289,000 fiber customers which was down year-on-year from 357,000. However, the company also said that 70% of its net adds were new to AT&T.
To help entice consumers to switch to AT&T’s fiber network, McElfresh said that the company has a dedicated fiber team within its consumer wireline business that is working in neighborhoods to sell fiber optic based Internet access. He added that the telco is measuring the number of fiber net adds they can achieve in 30 days, 60 days and 90 days in those local markets. The company sees those fiber net add numbers accelerating during each of those time periods.
Looking forward, McElfresh is encouraged by underlying mobile industry trends and sees limited signs that suggest a near-term shift in demand levels. He said he believes AT&T’s momentum is sustainable with the company’s simplified plans, targeted subsegment approach, improved customer experience and network performance all helping AT&T retain and attract subscribers, leading to lower churn and increased customer lifetime value. Reiterating recent comments by CFO Pascal Desroches, McElfresh indicated that AT&T’s outlook for 2022 and beyond does not assume a continuation of outsized industry net adds. Should recent mobile industry trends continue, he believes the changes made to AT&T’s go-to-market strategy puts the company in a better position to capitalize on healthier than anticipated demand.
McElfresh noted that AT&T continues to see postpaid phone ARPU stabilizing in 2022 with an improvement in international roaming and subscribers adopting higher-ARPU plans balancing the impact of amortization accounting for device promotions. McElfresh said that fewer than a quarter of gross adds and upgrades in the third quarter traded in newer devices for premium promotional offers. As previously noted, only about 20% of AT&T’s postpaid smartphones are on Unlimited Elite – the company’s highest-ARPU and fastest-growing rate plan.
With postpaid phone ARPU stabilizing in 2022, AT&T expects higher wireless service revenues from a growing postpaid subscriber base. McElfresh also indicated that he believes AT&T can continue to profitably increase its wireless market share going forward and reiterated that the company continues to expect fourth-quarter EBITDA growth to exceed third-quarter levels.
When asked about fiber penetration levels, McElfresh responded, “What I am focused on more than penetration levels is that we are demonstrating that we can step up our net add performance quarter to quarter.” In the third quarter, AT&T added 289,000 fiber customers which was down year-on-year from 357,000. However, the company also said that 70% of its net adds were new to AT&T.
To help entice consumers to switch to AT&T’s fiber network, McElfresh said that the company has a dedicated fiber team within its consumer wireline business that is working in neighborhoods to sell fiber. He added that they are measuring the number of net adds they can achieve in 30 days, 60 days and 90 days in those local markets and they are seeing those numbers accelerate.