AT&T Loses Subscribers, Revenues and Earnings drop due to COVID-19 Pandemic

AT&T suffered subscriber and revenue losses across the board in the spring quarter as the novel coronavirus infected every aspect of its business. Overall revenues sank to $41 billion, down 9% from $45 billion a year earlier, with the COVID-19 pandemic accounting for about $2.8 billion of that $4 billion hit.

On the wireless side of the business, which makes up more than half of revenues, AT&T shed 151,000 postpaid customers in Q2-2020, much worse than Wall Street’s consensus estimates of a 4,000-subscriber gain. That loss included 338,000 customers who stopped paying their bills but the company kept on the network to comply with the FCC’s Keep America Connected program. AT&T added 72,000 wireless postpaid subscribers in the year-ago period.

As a result, wireless revenues slipped to $17.1 billion in the quarter, down from $17.3 billion a year ago. But the company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) margin did edge up to 45.6% from 44.9% the year before.

AT&T’s shrinking traditional-TV business showed why the company needs its new online service to succeed. The division holding its DirecTV satellite unit lost 886,000 U.S. premium-TV subscribers and another 68,000 online-only channel bundles. That figure included 91,000 past-due accounts kept connected under the Keep Americans Connected pledge.

The U.S. TV unit ended June with 18.4 million accounts, down from more than 25 million two years ago. AT&T reported its traditional pay TV services, including DIRECTV and its newer streaming option AT&T TV, saw a combined net loss of 897,000 subscribers in the quarter. Meanwhile, its over-the-top streaming service, AT&T TV Now, also lost 138,000 subscribers, following a number of price hikes.  In addition, AT&T lost 68,000 streaming video subscribers. Due to that loss, its AT&T Now “skinny” bundle service closed the quarter with 720,000 subs, down 46% from a year earlier.

The company’s newer pay TV service, AT&T TV, only just became available nationwide in March. But despite its “streaming” nature — it ships with an Android TV-powered box to deliver TV over the internet — consumers may now have the opinion that it’s the worst of pay TV wrapped up in a new delivery mechanism. The streaming service is expensive compared with today’s over-the-top and video-on-demand options. It’s also laden with fees for things like activation, early termination and additional set-top boxes. And its bundle with AT&T Internet offers each service for $39.99/month for the first 12 months, but ties subscribers into two-year contracts where prices climb in the second year.

AT&T’s Q1 TV subscriber numbers indicate how quickly the pay TV market is imploding. And perhaps it will decline even more rapidly now that people no longer want to risk coronavirus exposure by having service techs install equipment in their homes. While AT&T TV’s DIY installation may help in that area, it’s unclear if the new service will ever broadly appeal to consumers in the streaming era.  AT&T ended the quarter with 18.6 million pay TV subscribers, down from 19.5 million in Q4 when it lost 945,000 subscribers. As a result, AT&T has now lost 3.9 million premium TV subs over the past 12 months, shrinking its customer base by 18%.

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Speaking on their earnings call Thursday morning, AT&T executives said they expect those numbers to improve in the third quarter as their retail stores gradually reopen throughout the U.S.  However, they also said some stores may not reopen or may close as they consolidate and streamline their retail outlets.

CapEx was $4.5 billion, with gross capital investment at around $5 billion, a difference primarily attributable to the timing of underpayments. AT&T invested an additional $1 billion in new 5G spectrum in the quarter, and invested nearly $400 million in HBO Max, in line with our full year estimate of $2 billion.

Even with the launch of HBO Max this spring, AT&T took its biggest financial hit on the media side of its business. Revenues at its WarnerMedia unit fell to $6.8 billion, down 23% from $8.8 billion last year, because of the absence of theatrical releases, lower TV ad sales and the lack of live sports. Company officials estimated that COVID-19 accounted for $1.5 billion of that decline.

Following what new AT&T CEO John Stankey termed “a flawless launch” of HBO Max, the supersized streaming video service that the company rolled out nationally in late May, the company reported that it closed out June with 36.3 million U.S. subscribers to HBO Max and HBO, up from 34.6 million subs at the end of last year. Citing “strong customer engagement” with HBO Max, Stankey said about 4.1 million customers have signed up so far, including about 1 million wholesale subscribers to AT&T.

AT&T reported an overall loss of 102,000 home broadband subscribers in the quarter, which included about 159,000 past-due accounts. The unit ended the quarter with 13.9 million connections, including DSL.   That broadband customer shrinkage came despite 225,000 AT&T Fiber net adds.   The latest AT&T broadband decrease marks the company’s fourth consecutive quarterly net loss of advanced broadband subscribers as it continues to fall further behind such big cable rivals as Comcast and Charter in the U.S. broadband market.

The telecom giant posted the overall broadband sub losses because it dropped 304,000 U-verse and other “advanced” broadband subscribers, according to the company’s latest earnings report. It also shed another 23,000 DSL subscribers as that business continues to wind down.

CFO John Stevens said on the earnings call:

Broadband customers continue to look for faster speeds. We added more than 220,000 AT&T Fiber subscribers, and a number of customers opting for gigabit speeds increased by more than 750,000 in the quarter. We now have 4.3 million AT&T Fiber customers, with nearly 2 million of them on 1 gigabit speeds.

On the broadband side, look, I have an appetite to get back to building footprint on fiber, and I think I’ve indicated that before. And I wouldn’t quite pigeon hole it in the way you asked the question relative to households. I have an appetite to build fiber that serves a combination of our needs in the consumer space, what we need to do to deploy 5G and what can help our business segment.

And really, the unique position we’re in as a business is we have lines of business in all those areas, and that should give us leverage in fiber deployment that I think others that are either only a fixed line provider and reselling wireless services or those that are only wireless providers and trying to deploy more fiber-intensive 5G networks don’t enjoy. And my investment thesis and my point of view on our company is that if we do our engineering correctly, and we think about our planning properly, we should be getting yields off of every millennial foot of fiber we put in that nobody else can achieve. And so as I think about this, and as we’re working them through from a planning perspective right now, it’s how we get the leverage across all 3 segments, not just the homes that we pass. Although, ideally, the net effect of that will be there will be communities that we build. I personally do not believe that 5G is a replacement in the near term for suburban, residential, single-family living units. It is an optimal strategy. I think it’s going to be a tough one to beat when there’s embedded gigabit-capable fixed line networks in place. And so I think there’s clearly going to be stuff on the margin that makes sense around that. But I don’t believe in the near term that 5G is the right fixed line replacement strategy in what I would call a typical single-family home infrastructure. And look, if it ultimately moves that way, and we start to see the technology stabilizing, we’re as well positioned as anybody to pivot to that. We certainly got the spectrum and the assets to make that happen; but I’m just not of the mindset right now that, that’s the optimal place to win in the market.

AT&T’s total broadband subscriber base is now shrinking by 3.3% on a year-over-year basis, according to the latest calculations by Craig Moffett, principal analyst at MoffettNathanson. In a report to investors today, he noted that this pace represents “another marked acceleration from the 2.8% decline” the company was experiencing just one quarter ago.Due to these accelerating subscriber losses, AT&T’s broadband financial metrics are clearly trending down as well.

“As with video, they had been pushing ARPU steadily higher, reflecting both mix as well as a clear intention to extract more cash from the business,” Moffett wrote in his report. But, he added: “Growth of just 1.6% YoY in premium broadband ARPU only (they don’t report DSL ARPU) wasn’t enough to offset the 2.5% YoY decline in subscribers; as with video, IP broadband revenue growth is now negative YoY.”

“HBO Max has gotten off to a rather inauspicious start,” Moffett added.

The company said it will continue investing in strategic growth areas like fiber, 5G, FirstNet, HBO Max.  Here are the company’s 2020 priorities:

Executing our plan with a market focus on:

• Wireless – Nationwide 5G and FirstNet
• Fiber-based connectivity – for wireless, consumer and business
• Software-based entertainment – HBO Max and AT&T TV
• Increased customer engagement – insights across all platforms’

AT&T withdrew its financial guidance due to the “lack of visibility related to COVID-19 pandemic and recovery,” the company said in a press release, which also stated:

“Our solid execution and focus in a challenging environment delivered significant progress in the quarter, most notably the successful launch of HBO Max, resilient free cash flow and a strengthened balance sheet,” said John Stankey, AT&T chief executive officer. “Our resilient cash from operations continues to support investments in growth areas, dividend payments and debt retirement. We are aggressively working opportunities to sharpen our focus, transform our operations and continue investing in growth areas, with the customer at the center of everything we do.”

“Our resilient cash from operations continues to support investments in growth areas, dividend payments and debt retirement. We are aggressively working opportunities to sharpen our focus, transform our operations and continue investing in growth areas, with the customer at the center of everything we do………I expect we’re going to be dealing with some of these economic challenges in a Covid environment” through the current quarter, Mr. Stankey said. “We’re operating accordingly,” he added.

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References:

https://investors.att.com/~/media/Files/A/ATT-IR/financial-reports/quarterly-earnings/2020/q2-2020/ATT%202Q20%20earnings%20release%20V2.pdf

https://investors.att.com/~/media/Files/A/ATT-IR/financial-reports/quarterly-earnings/2020/q2-2020/att-2q2020-earnings.pdf

https://www.lightreading.com/5g/covid-19-stings-atandt-despite-5g-hbo-max-rollouts/d/d-id/762618?

http://www.broadbandworldnews.com/author.asp?section_id=472&doc_id=762628&

AT&T Execs Talk up “Broadband Resiliency” and 5G with mixed impact from COVID-19

AT&T loses 897K more pay TV subscribers in Q1 2020, adding pressure to HBO Max launch

AT&T Execs Talk up “Broadband Resiliency” and 5G with mixed impact from COVID-19

John Stankey, president and chief operating officer, and incoming CEO of AT&T Inc. talked up broadband, HBO Max, and 5G today at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference.  Stankey said the company’s market focus is on providing customers with broadband through its fiber and mobile networks and software-based entertainment offerings such as HBO MAX and AT&T TV.  More importantly, he reaffirmed AT&T’s plan to have a nationwide 5G network in place by this summer (that’s long before 3GPP Release 16 can be implemented or ITU IMT 2020 standard completed).

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stankey said the resiliency of AT&T’s wireless, broadband and enterprise businesses provides the company with confidence in its ability to continue to generate strong cash flows to invest in key capital areas including fiber, 5G and HBO Max, comfortably cover its dividend and pay down debt. Additionally, he noted that it continues to be challenging to predict the length or depth of the pandemic’s overall economic impact or its effect on the company’s overall business.

Here are a few highlight telecom related quotes from Stankey:

“Wireless business at its core remains very strong, but the activity environment is a bit suppressed primarily because of distribution. Roaming dynamics have put some pressure on revenues but the core is looking very good.”

“On the SMB side, its a little early to tell if they’ll be a bounceback,” referring to the uncertainty of when many SMBs will re-open.  “I think we’ll be in a fairly slow climb back out of the low end of the market.  I don’t expect this to be a quick snap-back this year.”

“We want customers to start thinking about connectivity (and content) so we can grow our advertising business over time  HBO Max is  the front end of our entertainment distribution platform.”  He noted that both HBO Max and AT&T TV are software based (OTT TV packages) that are independent of the underlying transmission/ delivery network.

“Any discretionary consumer spending will be under review” in light of the economic hardships and distress imposed by COVID-19 stay at homes.  That will likely result in more cord cutting and reduced spending on traditional pay TV bundles.

Nationwide 5G coverage by mid-year:

“It’s going well. We’re starting from a very strong position. Our embedded (cellular) network is performing as well or better than any network out there.  We’ve added over 70% capacity since the end of 2017 and are broad spectrum holding (mmW, midband and lowband) for which we have the flexibility to allocate traffic to all of those, puts us in excellent position for deploying 5G.”

“In the summer we’ll have nationwide coverage of 5G.  Our customer base over- indexes (?) on Apple products, but Apple hasn’t announced a 5G product yet…. I feel great on how things are lining up.”

What 5G enables when widely deployed:

” A highly managed WAN with incredible levels of security that supports the kind of environments we’re in today.  It plays very well into the enterprise.  New business models will emerge, including manufacturing floor, medical communities and establishments.”

AJW Comment:  This reiterates that AT&T continues to focus its 5G strategy on enterprise customers vs consumers and we think that is where the growth will be, especially if ultra low latency and ultra high reliability are added to the 5G specs (those two capabilities are not nearly complete in 3GPP Release 16 and non-existent in the ITU-R IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs being progressed.

Future of 5G Technology - The Promise of a Faster Network | AT&T 5G

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Yesterday, AT&T CFO John Stevens told a Moffet-Nathanson virtual conference that the businesses that come out of the COVID-19 crisis in good financial shape may want to take advantage of 5G-related cost efficiencies.

“Businesses that are going through this who do have solid balance sheets, solid capabilities, good technology – they may want to move quicker to 5G to ring out the cost savings and efficiencies,” he said, adding the situation remains “wait and see.”

Stephens acknowledged that COVID-19 damage may also cause AT&T to lose business customers. “Certainly some opportunities will go away” from companies facing financial pressures and restrictions to credit amid the coronavirus-related economic downturn.

The timeline for monetizing consumer 5G hasn’t been impacted since AT&T didn’t expect to generate significant consumer service revenues from 5G any time soon, instead anticipating 5G applications to be targeted at business users.

“Those [business] applications will be turned into consumer applications over time, so we feel really good about getting the network out there before significant growing demand for 5G on the consumer side,” Stephens said.

At the start of the year, AT&T had expected a major handset upgrade cycle, coinciding with its expanded 5G network deployment and HBO Max launch.  With a significant portion of its retail stores closed, alongside high unemployment rates and possible tightened consumer spending, AT&T anticipates reduced activity – as was seen in March, when device sales dropped 25%.

Consumers may put off purchasing devices as they conserve financial resources, but a weak upgrade cycle won’t affect AT&T’s profitability, according to Stephens.

“The way we’re building toward 5G on an evolutionary basis, we are dramatically improving our LTE coverage and speeds along the way, so the customers we have get the benefit of what we’ve done with the equipment that’s in their hands today,” he said. “They don’t need to buy a new device,” although they do expect 5G to provide the opportunity to do that if they opt to.

In terms of mid-band spectrum compared to competitors, with T-Mobile’s new 2.5 GHz holdings and Verizon expected to participate in the C-Band auction later this year, Stephens said that AT&T’s work getting about 150 MHz of new spectrum into service has put the company in a favorable position for low-and mid-band spectrum.

Stephens couldn’t comment on the upcoming CBRS auction, but said C-band would be interesting to participate in and is confident in AT&T’s ability to fund spectrum acquisitions. Still, AT&T feels very good with its current spectrum holdings, which he stressed are already in service for customers.

References:

https://about.att.com/story/2020/stankey_jp_morgan.html

https://jpmorgan.metameetings.net/events/tmc20/sessions/31317-keynote-at-t-inc/webcast?gpu_only=true&kiosk=true

https://www.fiercewireless.com/operators/at-t-staying-steady-strategy-cfo

AT&T Execs Talk up “Broadband Resiliency” and 5G with mixed impact from COVID-19

John Stankey, president and chief operating officer, and incoming CEO of AT&T Inc. talked up broadband, HBO Max, and 5G today at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference.  Stankey said the company’s market focus is on providing customers with broadband through its fiber and mobile networks and software-based entertainment offerings such as HBO MAX and AT&T TV.  More importantly, he reaffirmed AT&T’s plan to have a nationwide 5G network in place by this summer (that’s long before 3GPP Release 16 can be implemented or ITU IMT 2020 standard completed).

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stankey said the resiliency of AT&T’s wireless, broadband and enterprise businesses provides the company with confidence in its ability to continue to generate strong cash flows to invest in key capital areas including fiber, 5G and HBO Max, comfortably cover its dividend and pay down debt. Additionally, he noted that it continues to be challenging to predict the length or depth of the pandemic’s overall economic impact or its effect on the company’s overall business.

Here are a few highlight telecom related quotes from Stankey:

“Wireless business at its core remains very strong, but the activity environment is a bit suppressed primarily because of distribution. Roaming dynamics have put some pressure on revenues but the core is looking very good.”

“On the SMB side, its a little early to tell if they’ll be a bounceback,” referring to the uncertainty of when many SMBs will re-open.  “I think we’ll be in a fairly slow climb back out of the low end of the market.  I don’t expect this to be a quick snap-back this year.”

“We want customers to start thinking about connectivity (and content) so we can grow our advertising business over time  HBO Max is  the front end of our entertainment distribution platform.”  He noted that both HBO Max and AT&T TV are software based (OTT TV packages) that are independent of the underlying transmission/ delivery network.

“Any discretionary consumer spending will be under review” in light of the economic hardships and distress imposed by COVID-19 stay at homes.  That will likely result in more cord cutting and reduced spending on traditional pay TV bundles.

Nationwide 5G coverage by mid-year:

“It’s going well. We’re starting from a very strong position. Our embedded (cellular) network is performing as well or better than any network out there.  We’ve added over 70% capacity since the end of 2017 and are broad spectrum holding (mmW, midband and lowband) for which we have the flexibility to allocate traffic to all of those, puts us in excellent position for deploying 5G.”

“In the summer we’ll have nationwide coverage of 5G.  Our customer base over- indexes (?) on Apple products, but Apple hasn’t announced a 5G product yet…. I feel great on how things are lining up.”

What 5G enables when widely deployed:

” A highly managed WAN with incredible levels of security that supports the kind of environments we’re in today.  It plays very well into the enterprise.  New business models will emerge, including manufacturing floor, medical communities and establishments.”

AJW Comment:  This reiterates that AT&T continues to focus its 5G strategy on enterprise customers vs consumers and we think that is where the growth will be, especially if ultra low latency and ultra high reliability are added to the 5G specs (those two capabilities are not nearly complete in 3GPP Release 16 and non-existent in the ITU-R IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs being progressed.

Future of 5G Technology - The Promise of a Faster Network | AT&T 5G

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Yesterday, AT&T CFO John Stevens told a Moffet-Nathanson virtual conference that the businesses that come out of the COVID-19 crisis in good financial shape may want to take advantage of 5G-related cost efficiencies.

“Businesses that are going through this who do have solid balance sheets, solid capabilities, good technology – they may want to move quicker to 5G to ring out the cost savings and efficiencies,” he said, adding the situation remains “wait and see.”

Stephens acknowledged that COVID-19 damage may also cause AT&T to lose business customers. “Certainly some opportunities will go away” from companies facing financial pressures and restrictions to credit amid the coronavirus-related economic downturn.

The timeline for monetizing consumer 5G hasn’t been impacted since AT&T didn’t expect to generate significant consumer service revenues from 5G any time soon, instead anticipating 5G applications to be targeted at business users.

“Those [business] applications will be turned into consumer applications over time, so we feel really good about getting the network out there before significant growing demand for 5G on the consumer side,” Stephens said.

At the start of the year, AT&T had expected a major handset upgrade cycle, coinciding with its expanded 5G network deployment and HBO Max launch.  With a significant portion of its retail stores closed, alongside high unemployment rates and possible tightened consumer spending, AT&T anticipates reduced activity – as was seen in March, when device sales dropped 25%.

Consumers may put off purchasing devices as they conserve financial resources, but a weak upgrade cycle won’t affect AT&T’s profitability, according to Stephens.

“The way we’re building toward 5G on an evolutionary basis, we are dramatically improving our LTE coverage and speeds along the way, so the customers we have get the benefit of what we’ve done with the equipment that’s in their hands today,” he said. “They don’t need to buy a new device,” although they do expect 5G to provide the opportunity to do that if they opt to.

In terms of mid-band spectrum compared to competitors, with T-Mobile’s new 2.5 GHz holdings and Verizon expected to participate in the C-Band auction later this year, Stephens said that AT&T’s work getting about 150 MHz of new spectrum into service has put the company in a favorable position for low-and mid-band spectrum.

Stephens couldn’t comment on the upcoming CBRS auction, but said C-band would be interesting to participate in and is confident in AT&T’s ability to fund spectrum acquisitions. Still, AT&T feels very good with its current spectrum holdings, which he stressed are already in service for customers.

References:

https://about.att.com/story/2020/stankey_jp_morgan.html

https://jpmorgan.metameetings.net/events/tmc20/sessions/31317-keynote-at-t-inc/webcast?gpu_only=true&kiosk=true

https://www.fiercewireless.com/operators/at-t-staying-steady-strategy-cfo

AT&T Earnings Down; Cost Cutting & Lower CAPEX for Remainder of 2020, 5G Uncertainty?

As expected,  AT&T reported first quarter (Q1) 2020 revenues down 4.6 percent to $42.8 billion.  The mega telco/media company continued to lose pay-TV subscribers while its WarnerMedia division suffered from the Covid-19 outbreak’s impact on the film and TV industry.

AT&T estimates the coronavirus pandemic reduced EPS 5 cents in the first quarter, which otherwise would have been in line with analyst expectations. Adjusted EPS fell to $0.84 from $0.86 a year ago, but would have increased to $0.89  without the extraordinary virus effect. The adjusted operating profit margin reached 21.2 percent in Q1, down slightly from 21.4 percent a year ago.

  • Telecom business revenues were down 2.6 percent to $34.2 billion, while adjusted EBITDA rose 2.1 percent to $12.8 billion.
  • AT&T Wireless grew service revenues 2.5 percent.
  • Revenues continued lower at the Entertainment group as AT&T lost another 1.035 million pay-TV subscribers in the quarter.
  • Mobile subscriber growth slowed to 27,000 postpaid net adds (+163,000 with phones), and the broadband base fell by another 73,000 customers in the three months.

AT&T Official Site - Unlimited Data Plans, Internet Service, & TV

Highlights from today’s AT&T earnings call transcript:

In Mobility, service revenue grew by 2.5% in the quarter. EBITDA of $7.8 billion grew by more than $500 million or 7%, and EBITDA margins expanded by 280 basis points. COVID did impact our top line revenue numbers in the quarter by about $200 million due to lower equipment and roaming revenues. Our subscriber counts for wireless, video and broadband this quarter exclude customers who we agreed not to terminate service for non-payment. For reporting purposes, we are treating those subscribers has disconnects. Even with that, our industry-leading network and FirstNet drove postpaid phone net adds of 163,000. Postpaid phone churn was down 6 basis points to 0.86% and our 5G deployment continues. We now cover more than 120 million people in 190 markets, and we expect we’ll be nationwide this summer.

In our Entertainment Group, cash generation remains a focus. We added 209,000 AT&T Fiber subscribers and now serve more than 4 million. We continue to drive ARPU growth in both video and IP broadband. In fact, premium video ARPU was up about 10% as we continue to focus on long-term value customers. We launched AT&T TV nationally late in the quarter and subscriber growth was in line with our expectations even with COVID impacts. Premium video net losses again improved sequentially.

Business Wireline performance was solid, with EBITDA and EBITDA margins remaining stable. Revenues were consistent with recent trends as declines in legacy products were partially offset by growth in strategic and managed services. Business Wireline continued to be an effective channel for our Mobility sales. Including wireless, total business revenues grew 1.7%.

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The negative coronavirus financial impact was palpable at WarnerMedia, which lost around $1 billion in revenue year-on-year and over $500 million in adjusted EBITDA. The unit suffered from the suspension of key events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and new cinema releases, a slowdown in advertising due to the reduced economic activity and a halt to most production activities.

Operating cash flow totaled  $8.9 billion in the quarter, and capital expenditure (CAPEX) reached  $5.8 billion, leaving free cash flow of USD 3.9 billion. Net debt was at about 2.6x EBITDA at the end of the quarter.

AT&T said its liquidity position and balance sheet remained strong and it had already adjusted capital spending plans and suspended its share buybacks. It will continue investing in critical growth areas like 5G, fiber broadband and HBO Max, while maintaining its dividend commitment and paying down debt,

AT&T President & COO John Stankey said during AT&T’s earnings call:

Our 5G deployment continues, although we continue to navigate workforce and permitting delays. We expect nationwide coverage this summer. We also continue to be opportunistic with our fiber build beyond the 14 million household locations we reach today.

Stankey said the operator would encourage customers to install their own equipment and would shift customers to its fiber network. He also said the operator would use artificial intelligence (AI) and other capabilities to reduce initial “truck rolls” (technician visits to customer locations) and to eliminate the need for a second visit.

“These efficiencies will enhance our ability to continue to invest in our key growth initiatives,” including HBO Max and 5G, Stankey said of AT&T’s cost-cutting program.

Regarding CAPEX, before the coronavirus pandemic, AT&T said it would spend around $20 billion on CAPEX throughout 2020, which is significantly lower than the $23 billion it spent in 2019 and the $22 billion that most Wall Street analysts had expected AT&T to spend in 2020.  AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson gave mixed messages on CAPEX plans for the remainder of the year on today’s earnings call:

“It’s not just writing checks for CAPEX. There’s people out doing things,” he said, explaining that some technicians may not be able to visit cell sites due to the spread of COVID-19, while some local officials may not be able to issue cell site construction permits.

“While we have no intention of slowing down on 5G and fiber deployment, the reality is that a lot of it is not in our control,” Stephenson said. “So there’s probably going to be – relative to the targets we gave you in CAPEX – some downward proclivity on that number, just because of the logistical issues we’re running into.”

AT&T declined to provide any financial guidance for the remainder of 2020 due to the pandemic. The operator/media giant spent roughly $5 billion on CAPEX during its most recent quarter, slightly above some Wall Street estimates.

AT&T’s management said the company had begun a cost-cutting program that the operator hopes will trim $6 billion from its budget by 2023. The huge cost cutting effort may include layoffs. Stankey didn’t specifically mention that word, but instead said the operator would enact a “headcount rationalization,” a term that could include layoffs as well as reductions by not hiring replacements for workers who retire or leave. That program, he said, would reduce the operator’s labor expenses by 4%, or roughly $1.5 billion, by the end of 2020. He added that the reduction would target employees in AT&T’s call centers, management structures and distribution strategy. AT&T employed roughly 252,000 people at the end of September.

CEO Stephenson made the following illuminating comments during the call:

In Mobility, the most immediate impacts are the reduction of roaming revenues as well as a reduction in late fees. The waiving of late fees is a commitment to our customers during these difficult economic times and roaming should gradually increase as people start to travel more. The first quarter impact of these items was approximately $50 million, with virtually all of it in the second half of March. We’re augmenting our digital sales team to mitigate the impact of store closures on equipment and service revenues, but we’re still forecasting lower wireless gross adds and upgrades. In fact, equipment revenues were down nearly 25% year-over-year in March. As a result of COVID, we anticipate an increase in bad debt expense across the various businesses, and accordingly, have recorded a $250 million incremental reserve in anticipation of that.

In our Entertainment Group, we anticipate increases in premium TV subscriber cord-cutting as well as lower revenues from commercial locations such as hotels, bars, and restaurants. Labor unit costs will increase temporarily from the 20% boost in pay we’re providing our frontline employees.

At WarnerMedia, content production has been placed on hiatus. Theatrical releases have been postponed and we’re seeing lower advertising revenues and lower costs from sports rights. This crisis has shown the value of premium streaming entertainment and we anticipate strong demand for HBO Max when it launches next month.

Fiber and broadband are more important than ever and we saw a pickup in demand for both in the quarter. We’re also seeing higher demand for VPN bandwidth and security. We do expect a negative impact on small business, which makes up about 15% of our total business wireline revenues. A detailed schedule of the COVID impacts is included in our investor briefing.

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Lightreading’s Mike Dano made the following comments on AT&T’s 5G deployments and CAPEX in a blog post:

One Wall Street analyst wondered if AT&T is moving its 5G goal posts slightly for 2020. Jennifer Fritzsche at Wells Fargo pointed out that AT&T executives now promise nationwide low band 5G by “summer” 2020. In contrast, during previous calls they had said the operator would reach that target by the “middle” of 2020.

AT&T’s low band 5G offering works on its 850MHz spectrum and doesn’t provide speeds that are much faster than its 4G LTE network. The operator also operates faster 5G services in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in parts of roughly 30 cities, but AT&T executives have remained conspicuously silent on that effort.

Verizon, in contrast, has promised to expand its own mmWave 5G network to an additional 30 cities this year.

AT&T’s 2020 CAPEX warning, on its network in general and on 5G specifically, has been echoed by some other players in the industry.

“COVID-19 and actions taken by governments to slow down the spread are making our service delivery and supply harder due to lockdowns and travel restrictions in many countries,” Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm said earlier on Wednesday. Ericsson sells 4G and 5G equipment to a wide range of global operators, including AT&T. “In addition, while we have seen no material effects on our demand situation, it is prudent to believe that the slowdown in the general economy may lead some operators to delay investment programs.”

Ekholm said some operators are accelerating their investments in 5G and 4G capacity, pointing to providers in China specifically.  Those comments dovetail with concerns of a 5G slowdown in Europe, largely due to decisions by some officials there to delay 5G spectrum auctions.

“We’re having to understand better what will happen as we exit the COVID pandemic in terms of [5G] investment,” noted EXFO CEO Philippe Morin in response to a question about how the pandemic might affect US operators’ 5G spending, according to a transcript of his remarks. He made his comments during his company’s recent quarterly conference call with investors. EXFO sells network testing equipment, including for 5G, to mobile network operators globally.

“In certain other countries in Europe, we’ve seen actually some of the [5G] spectrum auctions to be delayed as the countries have to deal with the virus,” Morin continued. “So, we’re going to – this is part of the discussions we’re having and dialogs we are having with our customers to better understand how – once we emerge out of the crisis, how the investments and where are the priorities are going to be.”

Stephenson acknowledged that it’s “pretty difficult” to predict what’s going to happen next as Americans and the rest of the world fight COVID-19. He said the world’s smartest economists disagree about what’s going to happen in the next quarter, much less the rest of the year.

AT&T’s CFO John Stephens said that mobile service remains an essential expense to most people. “The last thing that people don’t want to pay is probably their cellphone bill,” he said.

Indeed, in its most recent quarter – which suffered from the initial effects of widespread stay-at-home orders – AT&T reported postpaid phone net customer additions of 163,000, ahead of most Wall Street expectations. AT&T executives said the operator’s mobility business would help bolster its troubled media operation.

“The bottom line here is that Mobility performed its role admirably in Q1,” wrote the analysts at Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson of AT&T’s financial performance, in a note to investors Wednesday.

However, AT&T executives warned that if an economic recession deepens wireless users may look to reduce their spending by paying less for their service or holding onto an existing phone longer rather than upgrading to a new phone.

References:

AT&T Inc (NYSE: T) Q1 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

https://www.lightreading.com/5g/atandt-ceo-warns-of-downward-proclivity-in-network-spending/d/d-id/759080?

https://www.lightreading.com/services/atandt-starts-$6b-cost-cutting-program/d/d-id/759075?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

UPDATE:

April 24 (Reuters) – AT&T Inc said Friday that Chief Operating Officer John Stankey will take over as chief executive officer, effective July 1.  The announcement was made during AT&T’s annual meeting.

AT&T Earnings Down; Cost Cutting & Lower CAPEX for Remainder of 2020, 5G Uncertainty?

As expected,  AT&T reported first quarter (Q1) 2020 revenues down 4.6 percent to $42.8 billion.  The mega telco/media company continued to lose pay-TV subscribers while its WarnerMedia division suffered from the Covid-19 outbreak’s impact on the film and TV industry.

AT&T estimates the coronavirus pandemic reduced EPS 5 cents in the first quarter, which otherwise would have been in line with analyst expectations. Adjusted EPS fell to $0.84 from $0.86 a year ago, but would have increased to $0.89  without the extraordinary virus effect. The adjusted operating profit margin reached 21.2 percent in Q1, down slightly from 21.4 percent a year ago.

  • Telecom business revenues were down 2.6 percent to $34.2 billion, while adjusted EBITDA rose 2.1 percent to $12.8 billion.
  • AT&T Wireless grew service revenues 2.5 percent.
  • Revenues continued lower at the Entertainment group as AT&T lost another 1.035 million pay-TV subscribers in the quarter.
  • Mobile subscriber growth slowed to 27,000 postpaid net adds (+163,000 with phones), and the broadband base fell by another 73,000 customers in the three months.

AT&T Official Site - Unlimited Data Plans, Internet Service, & TV

Highlights from today’s AT&T earnings call transcript:

In Mobility, service revenue grew by 2.5% in the quarter. EBITDA of $7.8 billion grew by more than $500 million or 7%, and EBITDA margins expanded by 280 basis points. COVID did impact our top line revenue numbers in the quarter by about $200 million due to lower equipment and roaming revenues. Our subscriber counts for wireless, video and broadband this quarter exclude customers who we agreed not to terminate service for non-payment. For reporting purposes, we are treating those subscribers has disconnects. Even with that, our industry-leading network and FirstNet drove postpaid phone net adds of 163,000. Postpaid phone churn was down 6 basis points to 0.86% and our 5G deployment continues. We now cover more than 120 million people in 190 markets, and we expect we’ll be nationwide this summer.

In our Entertainment Group, cash generation remains a focus. We added 209,000 AT&T Fiber subscribers and now serve more than 4 million. We continue to drive ARPU growth in both video and IP broadband. In fact, premium video ARPU was up about 10% as we continue to focus on long-term value customers. We launched AT&T TV nationally late in the quarter and subscriber growth was in line with our expectations even with COVID impacts. Premium video net losses again improved sequentially.

Business Wireline performance was solid, with EBITDA and EBITDA margins remaining stable. Revenues were consistent with recent trends as declines in legacy products were partially offset by growth in strategic and managed services. Business Wireline continued to be an effective channel for our Mobility sales. Including wireless, total business revenues grew 1.7%.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The negative coronavirus financial impact was palpable at WarnerMedia, which lost around $1 billion in revenue year-on-year and over $500 million in adjusted EBITDA. The unit suffered from the suspension of key events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and new cinema releases, a slowdown in advertising due to the reduced economic activity and a halt to most production activities.

Operating cash flow totaled  $8.9 billion in the quarter, and capital expenditure (CAPEX) reached  $5.8 billion, leaving free cash flow of USD 3.9 billion. Net debt was at about 2.6x EBITDA at the end of the quarter.

AT&T said its liquidity position and balance sheet remained strong and it had already adjusted capital spending plans and suspended its share buybacks. It will continue investing in critical growth areas like 5G, fiber broadband and HBO Max, while maintaining its dividend commitment and paying down debt,

AT&T President & COO John Stankey said during AT&T’s earnings call:

Our 5G deployment continues, although we continue to navigate workforce and permitting delays. We expect nationwide coverage this summer. We also continue to be opportunistic with our fiber build beyond the 14 million household locations we reach today.

Stankey said the operator would encourage customers to install their own equipment and would shift customers to its fiber network. He also said the operator would use artificial intelligence (AI) and other capabilities to reduce initial “truck rolls” (technician visits to customer locations) and to eliminate the need for a second visit.

“These efficiencies will enhance our ability to continue to invest in our key growth initiatives,” including HBO Max and 5G, Stankey said of AT&T’s cost-cutting program.

Regarding CAPEX, before the coronavirus pandemic, AT&T said it would spend around $20 billion on CAPEX throughout 2020, which is significantly lower than the $23 billion it spent in 2019 and the $22 billion that most Wall Street analysts had expected AT&T to spend in 2020.  AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson gave mixed messages on CAPEX plans for the remainder of the year on today’s earnings call:

“It’s not just writing checks for CAPEX. There’s people out doing things,” he said, explaining that some technicians may not be able to visit cell sites due to the spread of COVID-19, while some local officials may not be able to issue cell site construction permits.

“While we have no intention of slowing down on 5G and fiber deployment, the reality is that a lot of it is not in our control,” Stephenson said. “So there’s probably going to be – relative to the targets we gave you in CAPEX – some downward proclivity on that number, just because of the logistical issues we’re running into.”

AT&T declined to provide any financial guidance for the remainder of 2020 due to the pandemic. The operator/media giant spent roughly $5 billion on CAPEX during its most recent quarter, slightly above some Wall Street estimates.

AT&T’s management said the company had begun a cost-cutting program that the operator hopes will trim $6 billion from its budget by 2023. The huge cost cutting effort may include layoffs. Stankey didn’t specifically mention that word, but instead said the operator would enact a “headcount rationalization,” a term that could include layoffs as well as reductions by not hiring replacements for workers who retire or leave. That program, he said, would reduce the operator’s labor expenses by 4%, or roughly $1.5 billion, by the end of 2020. He added that the reduction would target employees in AT&T’s call centers, management structures and distribution strategy. AT&T employed roughly 252,000 people at the end of September.

CEO Stephenson made the following illuminating comments during the call:

In Mobility, the most immediate impacts are the reduction of roaming revenues as well as a reduction in late fees. The waiving of late fees is a commitment to our customers during these difficult economic times and roaming should gradually increase as people start to travel more. The first quarter impact of these items was approximately $50 million, with virtually all of it in the second half of March. We’re augmenting our digital sales team to mitigate the impact of store closures on equipment and service revenues, but we’re still forecasting lower wireless gross adds and upgrades. In fact, equipment revenues were down nearly 25% year-over-year in March. As a result of COVID, we anticipate an increase in bad debt expense across the various businesses, and accordingly, have recorded a $250 million incremental reserve in anticipation of that.

In our Entertainment Group, we anticipate increases in premium TV subscriber cord-cutting as well as lower revenues from commercial locations such as hotels, bars, and restaurants. Labor unit costs will increase temporarily from the 20% boost in pay we’re providing our frontline employees.

At WarnerMedia, content production has been placed on hiatus. Theatrical releases have been postponed and we’re seeing lower advertising revenues and lower costs from sports rights. This crisis has shown the value of premium streaming entertainment and we anticipate strong demand for HBO Max when it launches next month.

Fiber and broadband are more important than ever and we saw a pickup in demand for both in the quarter. We’re also seeing higher demand for VPN bandwidth and security. We do expect a negative impact on small business, which makes up about 15% of our total business wireline revenues. A detailed schedule of the COVID impacts is included in our investor briefing.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Lightreading’s Mike Dano made the following comments on AT&T’s 5G deployments and CAPEX in a blog post:

One Wall Street analyst wondered if AT&T is moving its 5G goal posts slightly for 2020. Jennifer Fritzsche at Wells Fargo pointed out that AT&T executives now promise nationwide low band 5G by “summer” 2020. In contrast, during previous calls they had said the operator would reach that target by the “middle” of 2020.

AT&T’s low band 5G offering works on its 850MHz spectrum and doesn’t provide speeds that are much faster than its 4G LTE network. The operator also operates faster 5G services in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in parts of roughly 30 cities, but AT&T executives have remained conspicuously silent on that effort.

Verizon, in contrast, has promised to expand its own mmWave 5G network to an additional 30 cities this year.

AT&T’s 2020 CAPEX warning, on its network in general and on 5G specifically, has been echoed by some other players in the industry.

“COVID-19 and actions taken by governments to slow down the spread are making our service delivery and supply harder due to lockdowns and travel restrictions in many countries,” Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm said earlier on Wednesday. Ericsson sells 4G and 5G equipment to a wide range of global operators, including AT&T. “In addition, while we have seen no material effects on our demand situation, it is prudent to believe that the slowdown in the general economy may lead some operators to delay investment programs.”

Ekholm said some operators are accelerating their investments in 5G and 4G capacity, pointing to providers in China specifically.  Those comments dovetail with concerns of a 5G slowdown in Europe, largely due to decisions by some officials there to delay 5G spectrum auctions.

“We’re having to understand better what will happen as we exit the COVID pandemic in terms of [5G] investment,” noted EXFO CEO Philippe Morin in response to a question about how the pandemic might affect US operators’ 5G spending, according to a transcript of his remarks. He made his comments during his company’s recent quarterly conference call with investors. EXFO sells network testing equipment, including for 5G, to mobile network operators globally.

“In certain other countries in Europe, we’ve seen actually some of the [5G] spectrum auctions to be delayed as the countries have to deal with the virus,” Morin continued. “So, we’re going to – this is part of the discussions we’re having and dialogs we are having with our customers to better understand how – once we emerge out of the crisis, how the investments and where are the priorities are going to be.”

Stephenson acknowledged that it’s “pretty difficult” to predict what’s going to happen next as Americans and the rest of the world fight COVID-19. He said the world’s smartest economists disagree about what’s going to happen in the next quarter, much less the rest of the year.

AT&T’s CFO John Stephens said that mobile service remains an essential expense to most people. “The last thing that people don’t want to pay is probably their cellphone bill,” he said.

Indeed, in its most recent quarter – which suffered from the initial effects of widespread stay-at-home orders – AT&T reported postpaid phone net customer additions of 163,000, ahead of most Wall Street expectations. AT&T executives said the operator’s mobility business would help bolster its troubled media operation.

“The bottom line here is that Mobility performed its role admirably in Q1,” wrote the analysts at Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson of AT&T’s financial performance, in a note to investors Wednesday.

However, AT&T executives warned that if an economic recession deepens wireless users may look to reduce their spending by paying less for their service or holding onto an existing phone longer rather than upgrading to a new phone.

References:

AT&T Inc (NYSE: T) Q1 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

https://www.lightreading.com/5g/atandt-ceo-warns-of-downward-proclivity-in-network-spending/d/d-id/759080?

https://www.lightreading.com/services/atandt-starts-$6b-cost-cutting-program/d/d-id/759075?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

UPDATE:

April 24 (Reuters) – AT&T Inc said Friday that Chief Operating Officer John Stankey will take over as chief executive officer, effective July 1.  The announcement was made during AT&T’s annual meeting.

AT&T boosts wireless network capacity in spectrum-sharing deal with DISH Network

DISH Network is loaning AT&T 20 MHz of spectrum in the AWS-4 band, as well as its entire supply of 700 MHz airwaves, for two months. This is the third spectrum-sharing arrangement that the satellite provider has made since Sunday as telecom network providers prepare for extra data traffic from people working at home.

“DISH is proud to join forces with AT&T to achieve a common, critical goal: supporting the connectivity needs of Americans during this challenging time,” said Jeff Blum, DISH SVP of public policy and government affairs, in a statement.

This follows last week’s news that DISH would lend its complete 600 MHz portfolio of spectrum to T-Mobile.  In addition to loaning spectrum to T-Mobile and AT&T, DISH was given permission yesterday by the FCC to also loan spectrum to Verizon.

Dish (STOCK)

According to analyst Jonathan Chaplin at New Street Research, AT&T will be able to deploy the AWS-4 spectrum quickly and easily using its AWS-1 and AWS-3 equipment. In addition, AT&T can use Dish’s 700 MHz E-Block in conjunction with the D-Block that AT&T has started deploying in some markets.  Analysts are speculating that these loans during the COVID-19 crisis might later be turned into ongoing leases.

Chaplin wrote: “All told, DISH has now loaned out spectrum that could be leased at an annual run rate of $940 million. They still have the PCS H-Block and another 20 MHz of AWS-4, which would be worth another $580 million.”

Chaplin of New Street says: “All we know at this stage is that DISH is helping in a crisis; we don’t know that either side would be willing to convert the loan to a lease.”

DISH’s generosity in lending its spectrum during the coronavirus scare is highlighting how helpful the spectrum is to other operators in order to increase their capacity.

Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote, “Once this crisis passes, we believe the heavy demand on wireless and wired networks will shine the light on the need for additional spectrum allocation and continued programs to support push-out of broadband into rural areas to lessen the digital divide.”

………………………………………………………………………………….

PC Magazine has a breakdown of how Dish is distributing its unused spectrum over the next 60 days. Each provider is getting spectrum that can temporarily help bolster its 4G LTE data network and increase speeds. In AT&T’s case, Segan estimates that wireless customers could notice up to a 20Mbps uptick in data performance while the spectrum loan is in effect.

DISH has often been criticized for hoarding spectrum and not putting it to any actual use.  The company even risked fines from the FCC for failing to build an actual wireless network with the spectrum it owns.  But that was before the company was brought into the T-Mobile and Sprint deal and positioned as the replacement fourth “major” carrier once the merger is finalized.

Earlier today, T-Mobile issued a news release stating that the company remains prepared to close the merger with Sprint even as financial markets are in turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic. All necessary US regulators have already approved it and the two providers emerged victorious over a challenge from several US states.

References:

https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/dish-lends-spectrum-to-at-t-during-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/19/21187378/dish-letting-att-verizon-tmobile-use-spectrum-coronavirus

https://www.pcmag.com/news/att-4g-gets-a-big-capacity-boost-in-coronavirus-crisis

 

AT&T boosts wireless network capacity in spectrum-sharing deal with DISH Network

DISH Network is loaning AT&T 20 MHz of spectrum in the AWS-4 band, as well as its entire supply of 700 MHz airwaves, for two months. This is the third spectrum-sharing arrangement that the satellite provider has made since Sunday as telecom network providers prepare for extra data traffic from people working at home.

“DISH is proud to join forces with AT&T to achieve a common, critical goal: supporting the connectivity needs of Americans during this challenging time,” said Jeff Blum, DISH SVP of public policy and government affairs, in a statement.

This follows last week’s news that DISH would lend its complete 600 MHz portfolio of spectrum to T-Mobile.  In addition to loaning spectrum to T-Mobile and AT&T, DISH was given permission yesterday by the FCC to also loan spectrum to Verizon.

Dish (STOCK)

According to analyst Jonathan Chaplin at New Street Research, AT&T will be able to deploy the AWS-4 spectrum quickly and easily using its AWS-1 and AWS-3 equipment. In addition, AT&T can use Dish’s 700 MHz E-Block in conjunction with the D-Block that AT&T has started deploying in some markets.  Analysts are speculating that these loans during the COVID-19 crisis might later be turned into ongoing leases.

Chaplin wrote: “All told, DISH has now loaned out spectrum that could be leased at an annual run rate of $940 million. They still have the PCS H-Block and another 20 MHz of AWS-4, which would be worth another $580 million.”

Chaplin of New Street says: “All we know at this stage is that DISH is helping in a crisis; we don’t know that either side would be willing to convert the loan to a lease.”

DISH’s generosity in lending its spectrum during the coronavirus scare is highlighting how helpful the spectrum is to other operators in order to increase their capacity.

Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote, “Once this crisis passes, we believe the heavy demand on wireless and wired networks will shine the light on the need for additional spectrum allocation and continued programs to support push-out of broadband into rural areas to lessen the digital divide.”

………………………………………………………………………………….

PC Magazine has a breakdown of how Dish is distributing its unused spectrum over the next 60 days. Each provider is getting spectrum that can temporarily help bolster its 4G LTE data network and increase speeds. In AT&T’s case, Segan estimates that wireless customers could notice up to a 20Mbps uptick in data performance while the spectrum loan is in effect.

DISH has often been criticized for hoarding spectrum and not putting it to any actual use.  The company even risked fines from the FCC for failing to build an actual wireless network with the spectrum it owns.  But that was before the company was brought into the T-Mobile and Sprint deal and positioned as the replacement fourth “major” carrier once the merger is finalized.

Earlier today, T-Mobile issued a news release stating that the company remains prepared to close the merger with Sprint even as financial markets are in turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic. All necessary US regulators have already approved it and the two providers emerged victorious over a challenge from several US states.

References:

https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/dish-lends-spectrum-to-at-t-during-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/19/21187378/dish-letting-att-verizon-tmobile-use-spectrum-coronavirus

https://www.pcmag.com/news/att-4g-gets-a-big-capacity-boost-in-coronavirus-crisis

 

AT&T deploys XGS-PON to power FTTH nets

AT&T has enhanced its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) “last mile” network by deploying XGS-PON [1.] technology which will be live in 40 markets.  AT&T will start out providing 1 gigabit download speeds before eventually boosting them to 10 gigabits per second in both directions as it upgrades from GPON networks. The company said it has deployed XGS-PON in “a few thousand locations” noted that it has employed multiple vendors in the process. It’s part of AT&T’s road map to virtualize network access functions within its last mile network.

NOTE 1.  XGS-PON is a fixed wavelength symmetrical 10 Gbps passive optical network technology.

The “X” in XGS represents the number 10, and the letter “S” stands for symmetrical, XGS-PON = 10 Gigabit Symmetrical PON. An earlier, non-symmetrical 10 Gigabit PON version (XG-PON) was limited to 2.5 Gbps in the upstream direction.

PON technology originated in the 1990’s and has continued to develop through multiple iterations with differing wavelengths, speeds and components emerging as the technology has improved. The common denominator of all fiber optic PON networks remains the unpowered or passive state of the fiber and its splitting or combining components, i.e. no active elements such as optical amplifiers, which would require power, are present in the network. With streaming, high definition, 5G and other emerging technologies continually pushing bandwidth demands, the development of XGS-PON and other standards has proven to be essential.

Simultaneous upstream and downstream transmission over the same fiber is made possible through wavelength division multiplexing (WDM). This technology allows one XGS-PON wavelength or color of light transmission for upstream and another for downstream.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Two years ago, AT&T completed trials of 10 Gbps XGS-PON by using Open Source Access Manager Hardware Abstraction (OSAM-HA) software in Atlanta and Dallas. OSAM-HA was released into the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) in 2017 as VOLTHA.

  • OSAM, which used the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP) platform that AT&T helped develop, is a vendor-agnostic operational suite for managing consumer and business broadband access network elements and capabilities. ONAP has undergone several major releases over the past few years.
  • ONF’s Virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction (VOLTHA) open source software project, which is a component of ONF’s SDN Enabled Broadband Access (SEBA) platform, abstracts a PON network to make it manageable as if it were a standard OpenFlow switch.
  • SEBA describes how to assemble a collection of open source components to build a virtualized PON network to deliver residential broadband and mobile backhaul. SEBA uses a disaggregated white-box approach for building next generation access networks by using open source.

“AT&T continues to work with open communities such as ONF, ONAP, and OCP (Open Compute Project) to drive innovation, time-to-market, and cost improvements as we build next generation networks,” the company said in a March 4th statement in regard to a request for more information on the deployments in the 40-plus cities.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Conventional wisdom in the fiber broadband industry suggests NG-PON2 is the platform most providers will eventually adopt, with XGS-PON as an interim step to get there.

Verizon seems to be leapfrogging that approach. For what it’s worth regarding conventional wisdom, the AT&T spokesperson tells Telecompetitor, that “AT&T is not currently planning to use NG-PON2 at this time.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

References:

AT&T Fiber Begins Transition to Next Generation XGS-PON FTTH

https://www.fiercetelecom.com/telecom/at-t-tees-up-1-gig-xgs-pon-speeds-over-40-cities

https://www.viavisolutions.com/en-us/xgs-pon

http://www.tarluz.com/ftth/specification-differences-among-gpon-xg-pon-and-xgs-pon/

AT&T deploys XGS-PON to power FTTH nets

AT&T has enhanced its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) “last mile” network by deploying XGS-PON [1.] technology which will be live in 40 markets.  AT&T will start out providing 1 gigabit download speeds before eventually boosting them to 10 gigabits per second in both directions as it upgrades from GPON networks. The company said it has deployed XGS-PON in “a few thousand locations” noted that it has employed multiple vendors in the process. It’s part of AT&T’s road map to virtualize network access functions within its last mile network.

NOTE 1.  XGS-PON is a fixed wavelength symmetrical 10 Gbps passive optical network technology.

The “X” in XGS represents the number 10, and the letter “S” stands for symmetrical, XGS-PON = 10 Gigabit Symmetrical PON. An earlier, non-symmetrical 10 Gigabit PON version (XG-PON) was limited to 2.5 Gbps in the upstream direction.

PON technology originated in the 1990’s and has continued to develop through multiple iterations with differing wavelengths, speeds and components emerging as the technology has improved. The common denominator of all fiber optic PON networks remains the unpowered or passive state of the fiber and its splitting or combining components, i.e. no active elements such as optical amplifiers, which would require power, are present in the network. With streaming, high definition, 5G and other emerging technologies continually pushing bandwidth demands, the development of XGS-PON and other standards has proven to be essential.

Simultaneous upstream and downstream transmission over the same fiber is made possible through wavelength division multiplexing (WDM). This technology allows one XGS-PON wavelength or color of light transmission for upstream and another for downstream.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Two years ago, AT&T completed trials of 10 Gbps XGS-PON by using Open Source Access Manager Hardware Abstraction (OSAM-HA) software in Atlanta and Dallas. OSAM-HA was released into the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) in 2017 as VOLTHA.

  • OSAM, which used the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP) platform that AT&T helped develop, is a vendor-agnostic operational suite for managing consumer and business broadband access network elements and capabilities. ONAP has undergone several major releases over the past few years.
  • ONF’s Virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction (VOLTHA) open source software project, which is a component of ONF’s SDN Enabled Broadband Access (SEBA) platform, abstracts a PON network to make it manageable as if it were a standard OpenFlow switch.
  • SEBA describes how to assemble a collection of open source components to build a virtualized PON network to deliver residential broadband and mobile backhaul. SEBA uses a disaggregated white-box approach for building next generation access networks by using open source.

“AT&T continues to work with open communities such as ONF, ONAP, and OCP (Open Compute Project) to drive innovation, time-to-market, and cost improvements as we build next generation networks,” the company said in a March 4th statement in regard to a request for more information on the deployments in the 40-plus cities.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Conventional wisdom in the fiber broadband industry suggests NG-PON2 is the platform most providers will eventually adopt, with XGS-PON as an interim step to get there.

Verizon seems to be leapfrogging that approach. For what it’s worth regarding conventional wisdom, the AT&T spokesperson tells Telecompetitor, that “AT&T is not currently planning to use NG-PON2 at this time.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

References:

AT&T Fiber Begins Transition to Next Generation XGS-PON FTTH

https://www.fiercetelecom.com/telecom/at-t-tees-up-1-gig-xgs-pon-speeds-over-40-cities

https://www.viavisolutions.com/en-us/xgs-pon

http://www.tarluz.com/ftth/specification-differences-among-gpon-xg-pon-and-xgs-pon/

U.S. telcos on 5G rollouts (“vague promises”), devices, IoT/smart cities

Here’s what AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon said about their 5G network rollouts, soon-to-be available devices, and Smart City plans at CES 2020:

AT&T on 5G Devices, Network Plans:

Carrier and media goliath AT&T talked about 5G devices at this year’s CES event in Las Vegas, NV.  Currently, AT&T only sells one 5G-capable phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, but AT&T plans to have 15 5G phones available for use on its low-band 5G spectrum during 2020 (see Comment in the box below this article). The Dallas-based service provider said that other mobile devices, such as laptops, tablets, and hotspots will also be available this year, but no exact number of products were provided.

AT&T’s low-band 5G network went live in December 2019 and is currently available in parts of 19 cities. The carrier’s other 5G network that is built on millimeter-wave and is referred to as 5G Plus is live in parts of 35 cities. AT&T said that it plans to cover 200 million people with its 5G network by this summer.

Sprint IoT, Smart City Updates:

Wireless provider Sprint could merge with T-Mobile any day now, but the Overland Park, Kansas-based carrier hasn’t slowed down in the meantime. Sprint took to CES to launch several new offerings and update the market on its IoT plans.

Sprint unveiled its Certainty network design model, which unites its entire business wireline portfolio, including its wireless, IoT, and security solutions. The carrier also launched IoT Factory 2.0, a dedicated platform that solution providers and businesses can use to build custom IoT solutions for small-to-mid sized businesses in the food service, healthcare and agriculture space.

Chris Brydon, Regional Vice President Sales, Sprint Business Northwest Region via LinkedIn:

We believe hashtagIoT has the power to improve people’s lives. Here’s a story illustrating how an IoT application can be so much more than just a cold, lifeless piece of tech. Watch the very human difference it makes in the lives of a man and his family. https://lnkd.in/gdyeT9N hashtagWorksForBusiness

Sprint updated the market on its Smart City initiative on Tuesday. Specifically in Georgia, the provider said that in 2020 “micropositioning” technology, which combines next-generation wireless technologies and small cells will be installed within city infrastructure in areas to enable real-world navigation for autonomous machines, more connected sensors and IoT solution testing in its innovation Center for solutions such as refrigeration and monitoring, and security robots in Peachtree Corners’ Town Hall. Sprint also has plans to integrate additional Smart City technology in Greenville, South Carolina, and Arizona State University.

T-Mobile Talks 5G, Avoids Sprint Mega-Merger Talk:

T-Mobile didn’t address the main topic on everyone’s mind when thinking about the Magenta-colored carrier: its in-progress $26 billion mega-merger with wireless competitor Sprint. Instead, the “Un-Carrier” took to the show to highlight its 5G connectivity.

In a surprising move last month, the Bellevue, Wash.-based provider launched its nationwide 5G network using 600 MHz spectrum acquired in the recent incentive auction, as well as two 5G phones capable of using its 600 MHz spectrum. T-Mobile originally planned to launch the network in 2020.

 Verizon 5G Devices and Ultra Wideband Availability:

AT&T’s biggest competitor, Verizon, also came to CES armed with 5G updates. Compared to AT&T’s 15 devices, Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Verizon vowed to have 20 5G-capable devices in 2020 and said these devices would be competitively priced anywhere between $600-$800. Currently, Verizon has four 5G-capable smartphones. Subscribers interested in 5G will have to pay an additional $10 on top of their current unlimited data plan, Verizon said, but the company didn’t name any specific device manufacturers.

Verizon’s ultra wideband 5G network is available in parts of 30 cities today, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, as well as Hoboken, N.J. Des Moines, Iowa; and Providence, RI.  Please see Comment in the box below this article.

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Mike Dano of Lightreading wrote that AT&T and Verizon made “vague (uncertain?) promises” for their 5G mmWave networks:

in a New Year-themed post, AT&T’s Scott Mair wrote that “you’re in for an exhilarating ride on the AT&T 5G network in 2020 and beyond,” but he did not offer any specifics about what the carrier will do with its “5G+” network. Then, during a subsequent appearance at an investor event this week, AT&T CFO John Stephens said only that the operator’s 5G network would “continue to improve and grow.”

Similarly, Verizon touted its “vision” for its network in 2020 in a release issued this week, but said only that customers should “expect more great innovations and technology advancements from us in 2020 including a more aggressive build out of our 5G network.” At that same investor event, Verizon’s Ronan Dunne said “we will be continuing to drive hard” in 5G, but didn’t offer any specifics.

The bottom line here is that neither operator is offering any concrete information on the number of cities, cell sites or customers it plans to touch with mmWave 5G in 2020. As Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown writes, it’s time for these operators to show their hands.

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From a marketwatch.com article titled: The long-promised ‘Year of 5G’ arrives with more promises and little 5G

For years, telecommunications companies and gadget makers have invaded CES to talk about how big 5G was going to be in 2020.

At CES 2020 though the promise was still unfulfilled as the faster wireless service is still spotty and not entirely what was envisioned.

Without the premier connections that were promised, it is questionable how many consumers will buy the more expensive 5G-enabled devices that were introduced at the giant trade show this year, even though the same glowing predictions of a new future were readily available throughout Las Vegas.

5G promises faster data speeds, a reduction in lag time, and greater density for smart devices, all things that could eventually be catalysts for futuristic applications like autonomous driving and connected cities. More immediately, carriers are focused on exposing businesses and customers to those faster data speeds, where and when they can.

Verizon Communications Inc. expects to launch 20 devices with access to 5G by the end of the year, up from the seven that currently exist, according to Tami Erwin, who heads the company’s business group. AT&T Inc. mobility executive Kevin Petersen told MarketWatch at CES that accessibility will also be a key theme in the year ahead.

T-Mobile US claimed that it conducted a nationwide 5G rollout at the end of last year, providing access over a greater area but at slower data speeds than competitors. Verizon and AT&T both plan to add new cities to their coverage later this year, with AT&T still expecting to have nationwide coverage this year also.

Bob O’Donnell, president of TECHnalysis Research, cautions that these upgrades won’t happen right away due to some technical aspects of the 5G rollout. The more exciting type of 5G, millimeter-wave spectrum, primarily works outdoors and on campuses where it’s been specifically deployed. Sub-6 5G service works indoors and offers some benefits in speed and latency, but it’s a less dramatic step up from the 4G service consumers have come to know.

“The pieces are coming together but the forward-looking benefits are still a few years off,” O’Donnell said. Part of the issue is that 5G currently runs on top of 4G, rather than in a stand alone manner. Moving to stand alone 5G requires that carriers “refarm” spectrum frequencies from 4G to 5G, but they’re hesitant to make that big leap right away while most customers are still using 4G connections and while few phones support 5G.

“That’s like opening a 10-lane highway only for people with electric cars,” he said, since only a small minority of drivers would have access.

Making 5G a reality is a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario, according to O’Donnell, given that carriers thinking about moving away from 4G want there to be enough devices in the market to take advantage of the new wireless standard, and consumers want to make sure 5G networks are broad enough before investing in a mobile device that works on the network.

The device part of the equation showed signs of progress at CES, with connected PCs being one notable category. Lenovo Group Ltd. announced it will launch in the spring the Yoga 5G two-in-one device, which it says is the first 5G PC. Always-connected PCs let customers rely on cellular connectivity rather than hunt for WiFi networks, and the 5G products shown by Lenovo, HP Inc. HPQ, and others offer faster speeds than 4G ones currently on the market.

Those devices are more expensive than competitive gadgets without access to the technology, though, and that will most likely continue to be the case. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will be holding a smartphone launch in early February, where the company is expected to introduce a family of 5G Galaxy devices, and Apple is thought to be planning a 5G iPhone rollout later this year, with analysts expecting the 5G versions of those popular smartphones to carry a higher price tag.

Instinet analyst Jeffrey Kvaal expects “a large increase” in 5G unit sales for 2020, up from a small base of sales last year, but he thinks most of these sales will come at the expense of 4G devices, rather than a rush of upgrades. He estimates that 5G could boost a phone’s retail price by at least $75.

Today’s devices tend to be in the $1,000-plus range, but consumers should “start to see prices coming down, which ultimately helps the adoption curve,” as more mid-tier devices come to market this year equipped with 5G capabilities. Verizon’s consumer chief executive Ronan Dunne said at a Citi investor conference earlier this week that there could be 5G devices priced below $600 by the end of the year.

AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens told investors at the Citi conference that trying to predict 5G unit sales is missing the point a bit, since handset sales are “not a profitable enterprise for a business like ours.” The company sees various new service revenue opportunities from being able to compete “in the geographies where our service has gotten much better.”

The promise of 5G goes well beyond smartphones, and executives pointed out that the services that have developed in the past decade likely wouldn’t have existed without the move to 4G.

“If someone was watching a streaming video on a connection 10 years ago, you would’ve swatted the phone out of their hand and said they were going to use up the whole monthly data plan in 13 seconds,” Qualcomm’s  vice president of engineering John Smee told MarketWatch. Now, streaming over wireless is commonplace. Verizon’s Erwin noted that the proliferation of ride hailing also wouldn’t have been possible without the upgrade in data speeds.

AT&T’s Petersen thinks it’s too soon to know what the killer use case for 5G will be, but he’s upbeat about its ability to provide upgraded experiences in gaming, translation and medicine. A reduction in latency, or lag time, could create better responsiveness for gamers and reduce awkward pauses when people are using mobile devices to translate from one language to another in real time. Doctors could more easily monitor patients remotely after procedures by using connected devices.

Over time, the expected benefits of 5G and the growth of accessible smart devices could change the way consumers and workers think about doing data-heavy tasks. Smee even suggested that it could replace the need for Wi-Fi for most users.

“If you think of your cable modem or your DSL and you look at the rates you get compared to the 5G data rate, all of a sudden wireless is the preferred medium and that’s a big game changer versus the idea that you have to have wired connectivity to have high data rates,” he said.

References:

https://www.crn.com/slide-shows/networking/ces-2020-top-telecom-carriers-talk-5g-new-devices-and-iot

https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/heres-why-it-might-be-time-to-worry-about-mmwave-5g/a/d-id/756706?

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/ces-2020-the-long-promised-year-of-5g-arrives-with-more-promises-and-little-5g-2020-01-10