unveiled a bevy of partnerships Wednesday meant to boost awareness of its expanding 5G service, and updated investors on its progress building the network.
At a loft in New York City, with AT&T-blue mood lighting and lofi beats, AT&T executives, a representative from Google’s cloud-gaming service Stadia, and actor-turned-tech-investor Ashton Kutcher waxed poetic about the promise of 5G to “untether” gamers from their consoles, bring augmented reality experiences to people on the move, and enable new telemedicine capabilities.
Many of those applications are possible on slower 4G networks or consumers’ home Wi-Fi networks today, but 5G promises to make them even more mobile and responsive, the speakers agreed.
AT&T (ticker: T) just needs some help convincing consumers of that promise. It’s joining with
(GOOGL) Google Stadia,
(FB) augmented reality-focused Reality Labs, the National Basketball Association, and Boingo Wireless, the company that provides Wi-Fi in airports and other transit hubs, to showcase the potential of 5G. It’s also a chance for AT&T to partner with companies that will see their products and services lifted by the transition to 5G.
Attendees could watch demonstrations of the several 5G-enabled applications, including Stadia; a Space Jam AR experience, a coming film from AT&T’s soon-to-be spun off WarnerMedia; and speed tests showing download speeds on AT&T’s 5G network of around 800 mbps.
AT&T said its “5G Nationwide” network now reaches 250 million Americans, using mostly low-band wireless spectrum. Those frequencies can carry a signal a greater distance from a cell tower than higher-frequency bands—making them good for covering large geographic areas—but don’t deliver the full high-speed and low latency promise of 5G. AT&T’s “5G+” network uses mmWave spectrum, which is lightening fast but needs a dense arrangement of antennas to blanket an area.
AT&T has 5G+ live in parts of 38 cities and 20 venues including stadiums and airports, expects those numbers to rise to more than 40 each by year’s end.
Mid-band spectrum is in the sweet spot for 5G, with an attractive trade-off between range and capacity. Telecom companies splashed out to the tune of $81 billion early this year at an auction for mid-band spectrum licenses, with AT&T spending more than $23 billion. The company expects to cover up to 75 million people with that so-called C-Band spectrum by the end of next year, and 200 million by the end of 2023.
That’s when consumers everywhere might be able to really benefit from all the flashy new applications that AT&T and its partners showed off Wednesday. Meanwhile,
has a lead on the industry in its mid-band deployment.
and AT&T have to wait for C-Band to be cleared and ready for deployment, while T-Mobile built the bulk of its mid-band license portfolio through its acquisition of Sprint, which closed last year.
AT&T has been aggressive with promotions lately, offering discounts to both new and existing customers to win subscribers from competitors and lower its churn, or the percentage of existing customers who cancel their plans each month.
That has shown up in AT&T’s all-important subscriber numbers. In the first quarter, the company added a net 595,000 postpaid wireless phone lines—customers who pay a monthly bill, a closely watched metric for wireless companies. That was well ahead of Verizon Communications’ (VZ) 178,000 net loss, and close to the 773,000 postpaid phones that T-Mobile US (TMUS) added. AT&T’s churn was below its rivals’ as well. But its average revenue per user, or ARPU, fell.
Subscriber numbers and profitability will be in focus when AT&T reports its second-quarter results on July 22. The stock has returned 3.4%, including dividends since the start of the year, compared with a 1% loss after dividends for Verizon and a 10% rise for T-Mobile. The S&P 500 has returned 17% year to date.
Write to Nicholas Jasinski at [email protected]