AT&T and BlackRock’s Gigapower fiber JV may alter the U.S. broadband landscape
AT&T and a unit of investment titan BlackRock will form a joint venture to operate a commercial fiber-optic platform, with AT&T as its first wholesale tenant. The objective is to further propel AT&T’s fiber ambitions outside of the carrier’s traditional 21-state wireline footprint and move on AT&T’s long-simmering fiber expansion plans. The newly formed joint venture (JV) — Gigapower, LLC — expects to provide a best-in-class fiber network to internet service providers (ISPs) and other businesses across the United States.
The Gigapower joint venture will operate the commercial fiber service. That service – not to be confused with AT&T’s previous “GigaPower” broadband offering – will be targeted at internet service providers (ISPs) and enterprises.
BlackRock’s work in the venture will be through its Alternatives division and through a fund managed by its Diversified Infrastructure business. That business recently raised $4.5 billion in initial investor commitments. AT&T executive veteran Bill Hogg was named CEO of Gigapower.
The JV’s initial plans are to deploy a multi-gigabit fiber network to 1.5 million customer locations using a commercial open access platform. This will be incremental to AT&T’s own fiber deployment plans targeted at reaching more than 30 million locations within its 21-state wireline footprint by the end of 2025. The JV will tap into AT&T’s nationwide 5G wireless service to support sales outside of its traditional wireline footprint. This will allow it to take advantage of AT&T’s already established enterprise arrangements and more quickly get a sales channel up and running.
“Now more than ever, people are recognizing that connecting changes everything,” said John Stankey, CEO of AT&T. “With this joint venture, more customers and communities outside of our traditional service areas will receive the social and economic benefits of the world’s most durable and capable technology to access all the internet has to offer.”
“We are excited to form the Gigapower joint venture in partnership with AT&T, which will be serving as not only a joint owner but also the first wholesale tenant. We believe Gigapower’s fiber infrastructure designed as a commercial open access platform will more efficiently connect communities across the United States with critical broadband services,” said Mark Florian, Global Head of Diversified Infrastructure, BlackRock. “We look forward to partnering with Gigapower’s highly experienced management team to support the company’s fiber deployment plans and shared infrastructure business model.”
Gigapower plans to deploy a reliable, multi-gig fiber network to an initial 1.5 million customer locations across the nation using a commercial open access platform. The Gigapower fiber deployment will be incremental to AT&T’s existing target of 30 million-plus fiber locations, including business locations, by the end of 2025. Combined with existing efforts within AT&T’s 21-state footprint, this capital efficient network deployment will advance efforts to bridge the digital divide, ultimately helping to provide the fast and highly secure internet people need. This network expansion will also help spur local economies in each of the communities in which Gigapower operates.
“Fiber is the lifeblood of digital commerce,” said Bill Hogg, CEO of Gigapower. “We have a proven team of professionals building this scalable, commercial open access wireline fiber network. Our goal is to help local service providers provide fiber connectivity, create the communications infrastructure needed to power the next generation of services and bring multi-gig capabilities to help close the gap for those who currently are without multi-gig service.”
Tammy Parker, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, wrote:
“AT&T is pursuing a shrewd path to extend its fiber footprint nationwide without assuming all the risk by itself. Although the new Gigapower platform will be operated as a joint venture with BlackRock, offering commercial open access to not only AT&T but also other internet service providers and businesses, the carrier’s influence features prominently: the moniker ‘GigaPower’ was formerly applied to AT&T’s fiber-based service, which was renamed ‘AT&T Fiber’ in October 2016.
“The Gigapower platform will serve customers outside of AT&T’s traditional 21-state wireline footprint, and as the platform’s first wholesale tenant AT&T will be able to sell fiber service in more wireline markets, complement its nationwide mobile service footprint, and enable the carrier to market fixed-mobile service bundles in those markets. Over time, AT&T should be able to leverage this dual-technology capability to not only attract new customers and revenue streams, but also increase customer retention as subscribers who take multiple services from a carrier tend to be ‘stickier’ and less likely to stray to a rival service provider.
“The AT&T and BlackRock JV poses a competitive challenge to cable providers and regional fiber providers, whose broadband reaches are geographically restricted, though those carriers could possibly become tenants on the open access Gigapower platform to extend their own footprints.
“Gigapower will also help AT&T extend its fiber offerings to compete against the highly successful fixed wireless access (FWA) services being marketed by rivals T-Mobile US and Verizon to residential and business broadband customers both inside and outside of AT&T’s existing wireline service area. However, unlike FWA services, which can ride on top of existing mobile network coverage and are often self-installable, fiber requires the deployment of new infrastructure and truck rolls to the premises to be served, impacting time to market for AT&T and BlackRock’s ambitious plan. Additionally, Gigapower’s initial footprint will cover only 1.5 million customer locations, and it is unclear what the deployment timeline will be.
“After largely extracting itself from its previous foray into entertainment, AT&T continues doubling down on its broadband focus, committing to both 5G and fiber nationwide. AT&T’s JV with BlackRock has the potential to alter the broadband landscape, not only by enabling AT&T to market fiber in more markets but also by providing a platform for public-private broadband partnerships between Gigapower and local municipalities. However, it will take time to see results from this long-term play.”
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AT&T is partnering with AST SpaceMobile to provide increased terrestrial coverage with AST’s low Earth orbit satellites. AT&T intends to leverage the service to deliver “integrated, complementary and real connectivity from satellite-based solutions for voice, data and video services,” to customers.
AT&T already has a satellite partnership with satellite company OneWeb to offer connections to the wireless carrier’s business users but hadn’t announced any consumer-focused satellite service.
Sambar does, however, hint at a possible consumer application as he describes how his mother-in-law’s drive from rural Virginia to Richmond to “see her kids and grandkids” includes a road that currently struggles for coverage from “any wireless carrier.” That drive, he says, could potentially be covered by a “space-based mobile solution.”
AT&T tells CNET that it plans to use the service to offer “integrated, complementary and real connectivity from satellite-based solutions for voice, data and video services.”
As for device support, AT&T says the service is “intended to integrate with all of our customers’ devices using LTE and 5G broadband on our existing mobile network.” The carrier, however, says it is “too early” to say if it will charge extra for the service or include it with customers’ existing plans.
Gigapower is NOT a commodity product! Don’t confuse wholesale enterprise fiber with fiber to the home. When a company is the first fiber provider to the home there’s a mote there as the up-front capital to be the second fiber provider to the home is substantial. There are lots of wholesale fiber providers but not all the way to the home. There’s real money there and far from a commodity.