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In a 5G World, You Can Connect Millions of IoT Devices Per Square Mile, Says AT&T CEO

“You can begin now to conceive of robotic manufacturing that is always on and always connected via 5G networks,” says Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T Inc. “Just to put this into perspective, the Internet of Things, the devices and sensors that are connected all over the place, with today’s networks in a square mile you can connect a thousand, two thousand, or possibly three thousand of those. In a 5G world, you can connect millions of those in a square mile.”

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AT&T Inc. discusses the massive impact that 5G will have in an interview with The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. president David M. Rubenstein:

What is 5G?

The G means generation. So 2G is second-generation technology. When you went to your flip phone and you remember how you used to text using a 10 key device. That was 2G and allowed that kind of service. 3G is when the internet became mobile. Third generation networks allowed mobile use of the internet. The first iPhone was on 2G, but when it went 3G is when it exploded because you’re literally using the internet on a mobile device. Fourth-generation is what really enabled all of us to consume CNN video on a smartphone. It literally mobilized video. But for 4G technology, Instagram would not be what it is today. It’s all video. Facebook is virtually all video now. Just consuming all this video on a mobile device is facilitated by 4G.

5G is going to prove to be the most transformative of all the G’s that we have seen to date. First of all, it’s a step change faster. It also will have zero latency meaning you issue a command and it’s immediate. You’re just always connected. It’s a real-time network. It’s just like turning a light switch on, it’s real-time. This is really important when you start to conceive of services like autonomous cars. You don’t want to be in an autonomous car that’s dependent on a network with latency. It’s very serious. If a kid runs out in front of a car it needs to be a real-time, always on, and always connected network. This is really really important as you begin to conceive of these services.

In a 5G World, Millions of Connected Devices Per Square Mile

You can begin now to conceive of robotic manufacturing that is always on and always connected via 5G networks. Just to put this into perspective, the Internet of Things, the devices and sensors that are connected all over the place, today’s networks in a square mile you can connect a thousand, two thousand, or possibly three thousand of those. In a 5G world, you can connect millions of those in a square mile.

With each of those devices that are connected to the network you can now locate (very precisely) on a 5G network. Today, you can locate (only) within a certain number of meters. With 5G we will be able to isolate that device to within centimeters. Think about what you can do as you begin to get that kind of precision on location and so forth, and that kind of speed. I couldn’t conceive of the iPhone when we built a 3G network. You and I can’t conceive of all the services that are going to materialize with this kind of capability.

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AT&T CEO Defends 5G Evolution Marketing Following Sprint Lawsuit

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended AT&T’s aggressive 5G E marketing following the filing of a lawsuit by Sprint. During the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, some of their competitors criticized them, saying AT&T is “slapping 5G stickers” on upgraded 4G phones.

Stephenson says that 5G Evolution (5G E), represents new technology that they are deploying that delivers radical increases in speed and performance on their network.


Description of 5G Evolution on AT&T website.

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO of AT&T, defends their 5G E marketing amid a lawsuit filing by Sprint in an interview with CNBC:

It’s an Evolutionary Step to 5G

It’ll play itself out obviously. We feel very comfortable with how we’ve characterized the new service that we’re launching. What we do is go into a market and we turn up a significant block of spectrum, wireless airways that we own. I mean it’s rather dramatic. We’re deploying new technology that I won’t go into the details of it, but when we go into a market and we turn up this technology and we light up this spectrum our customers are seeing radical increases in speed and performance on the network.

This is a step that’s required to get to ultimate 5G. It’s an evolutionary step to 5G, a critical step. So we are characterizing this 5G E, 5G Evolution. We’ve obviously done our homework. We’ve done a lot of work around how we characterize this. We’re being very clear with our customers that this is an evolutionary step.

It’s Not a Play Everybody Can Run

But this is a dramatic step-change improvement in what the customers experience where we turn this up. I fully understand why our competitors might be upset with this. It’s not a play everybody can run. It’s a play that we really like. It’s a play that’s going to differentiate us in the marketplace as we begin to roll this out over the course of this year.

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AT&T CEO Slaps Down 5G Criticism by Verizon and T-Mobile:

AT&T CEO John Donovan slapped down recent 5G criticism by Verizon and T-Mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Those companies and some others have criticized them saying AT&T is “slapping 5G stickers” on upgraded 4G phones. They say it is misleading and confusing to consumers and is damaging to 5G in the long run. Donovan says that is really just not the case.

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, discussed criticisms related to 5G marketing and how 5G is going to radically reshape technology in the future in an interview by CNBC at CES in Las Vegas:

They Are a Little Wounded by Our Success Last Month

The fact that we have beachfront property inside their heads makes me smile. But that’s really just not the case. If you think about the history of our industry, the top part of that phone has always given an indication of the network information. In the early days, the number of bars told you where you were coverage wise.

Then when you were paying per megabyte you’d look and to see where to get a Wi-Fi network. That’s always been the information that was available to the customers about what’s going to be available and what can they do.

For us, it was a natural evolution. We announced two years ago at this show, actually in 2017, that we were going to do this. The fact that we did it and then all of a sudden our competitors have decided that they’re upset by it, I think that they’re wounded a little by our success last month.

AT&T Bringing 5G to Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium

In December, just last month, we launched the first 5G mobile version that standards-based, you can buy a device and you can get on the network for 12 cities. The first part of this year we’re going to roll out in another seven cities. So we’re well down the path. We’ve been announcing some of these use cases that we’re doing with businesses.

Just this morning we announced we’re going to work with the Dallas Cowboys to get 5G into AT&T Stadium and Rush Hospital in Chicago, where we’re going to try to transform healthcare inside the provider hospitals. and so we’re really excited about the opportunity to continue marching down this path.

5G is Going to Radically Reshape Technology

The 4G network itself was really the epicenter of the 4G revolution which was the device itself. As you think about how it comes together though, each of these generations, the network, the device, and then the applications, have to come together. Sometimes you get those things timed perfectly. Sometimes one is ahead of another. At the end of the day, the consumer benefits are going to arrive when all three of them come together at the same time.

What’s different about 5G is not just that the network is more powerful. We always think of it as a real-time network. It’s also that we’ve been getting calls from customers in advance that say I’m going to do a new architecture or a new design on something that you’re going to see on the CES floor.

It’s going to radically reshape the size of goggles, for instance, for virtual reality. It’s going to change how you would architect an autonomous car. So this is different because these things are going to happen and come together much more quickly than they did during the early days of the iPhone and the evolution of the 3G and the 4G network.

Asked about subsidizing phones again or subsidizing something else to help aid the 5G rollout:

Possibility of Bringing Back Phone Subsidies

That’s a TBD. I do think that when you build a long term relationship with a customer and that relationship is expanding it does give you some degrees of freedom to say we’re going to help you with the economics of this or help with the economics of that. It’s a TBD.

I’m not trying to shy away from the question. I think that there’s a possibility that you could get back into subsidies of some sort. Today, what customers appreciate with us is they have the ability to get HBO or music so that they get some added benefit with their traditional network.

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