Your connection to the world is about to dramatically change.
That’s the takeaway from AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson who addressed the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Statehouse Convention Center on Wednesday (Dec. 4).
Stephenson – who was interviewed before a capacity chamber crowd of more than 1,000 by former Alltel CEO Scott Ford, an AT&T board member – outlined a vision for the future that will incorporate 5G technology and his company’s recent acquisition of media conglomerate Time Warner, now known as WarnerMedia.
“We are in a unique position to take that content directly to the consumer. We have between all of our connections here, all of our paid TV business, we have 170 million customer connections,” Stephenson said.
AT&T completed its acquisition of WarnerMedia earlier this year for $85 billion and expects to attract up to 60 million subscribers or more eventually, which Stephenson said could be leveraged for other services and products. WarnerMedia includes Warner Bros., CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes in addition to developing exclusive originals.
Stephenson said the consumer data that will be collected from habits and preferences will reimagine AT&T’s business model to not only include services and products, but also targeted advertising and new content subscription models.
“If we can create this direct-to-consumer product, people will consume their media, their entertainment, their sports and their news,” he said. “They’re buying a media presence with connectivity.”
A 5G WORLD
The key to this revolution is the soon-to-be operational 5G network. The high-speed backbone fueling rapid download speeds and essentially cloud-based storage will lead to new devices that use less power and are smaller in scale as they won’t need all of the processing, battery power, and storage capabilities of current products.
How fast is 5G? It will lead to “instantaneous” connection of devices and likely reconfigure everything we know about cell phones, communications equipment, autonomous cars – even the way they are designed. Holding up a smartphone, Stephenson explained that the computer processing contained in the device to connect to a wireless network won’t require as much with 5G.
“Once you have a network this sophisticated and advanced, all that storage, boost, high gear – you don’t need a big, bulky device,” he said. “When you have this fast speed, no latency, you begin to think differently about the entire architecture of what kind of devices you design.”
In testing of 5G at the company’s Dallas headquarters, Stephenson said he already has 2 gigabyte internet speed, which is faster than current cable modem capabilities.
Stephenson said that by mid-2020 AT&T’s 5G technology would begin its nationwide availability. Nearly six years ago, he led the charge to gain new bandwidth spectrum as well as bid on a federal government project called FirstNet, which will build out a national emergency responder network.
Stephenson said he expects 5G to be a replacement to high-speed cable and broadband as well as a salvation for rural broadband service.
“When we build this wireless network, we’ll reach rural America [because] the technology is fast enough for broadband in rural America,” he said. “This does over time become the standardized platform, I believe, for broadband. Fiber feeds these networks, but it will be a mobile, wireless environment.”
This promise has been on the horizon for years, but Stephenson said the anticipation will be exceeded by the results.
“It always takes longer than people think, but it always turn out bigger than people think,” he said.