NEW YORK—Randall Stephenson envisions a world where smartphones can do anything and said his company will continue to invest in America. The AT&T CEO spoke at an Association for a Better New York event on Nov. 15.
“The last five years have been an adrenaline rush for our industry. It has been pure adrenaline and I think that’s maybe an understatement,” said Stephenson about the rapid development of mobile Internet use via smartphones.
Starting in 2007 with the launch of the first iPhone, the breadth and depth of devices and mobile Internet has exploded. “The volumes that are going over our mobile data networks are up 25,000 percent and they are doubling every year still,” as people use their phones for entertainment, news consumption, and getting work done.
America Leading in Wireless Networking
“This adrenaline rush has been led globally by the United States of America. There is nobody in the world that has scaled mobile Internet capabilities at the level that we have in the United States.” Stephenson also notes that AT&T invested more capital in the United States than any other public company in the last five years. The company spent $115 billion to acquire spectrum and improve its network since 2007.
According to Stephenson, this investment was necessary to prepare for the new era of complete mobility. “The mobile phone will become your credit card; it will become your payment mechanism for everything you buy.”
New uses for smartphones he plans to roll out include remote control of household equipment, such as air-conditioning.
In fact, Stephenson thinks that smartphones are on the way to becoming ubiquitous and irreplaceable. “When you leave your home in the morning, there are three things now that you do not walk out without. Your car keys, you wallet, and your smartphone. And we’re [on track to quickly make] obsolete two of those three.”
Cloud computing, the method of storing information on secure servers and accessing it through the Internet, will play a big role. “We couldn’t do this three years ago because the networks weren’t fast enough to make that a good experience. I’d go out to look up that information and I’d take a nap waiting on it to come over the wireless network. Now it’s instantaneous.”
Due to the fast networks, business and consumers can now quickly access sensitive information without worrying about security on the go.
To get fully up to speed, further investment is necessary. AT&T will spend $66 billion in total over the next three years to further support mobile infrastructure. “This is the super-highway system of the digital age. Without this, we in the United States don’t compete and I don’t believe we lead.”
Smaller Cell Sites Inside Buildings Planned
In order to expand rapidly and improve service, AT&T will build more but smaller cell sites. A cell site includes antennas and computers, which make mobile communication possible. This equipment is commonly hoisted on poles or towers and requires a lot of space and backup power generation.
To solve the space issue, Stephenson said that the company might install as many as 45,000 of new, smaller models in New York over the next three years. The smaller cell sites are going to be placed inside buildings, on top of electricity and light poles, thereby saving space. Stephenson said that New York has been a testing ground for AT&T for many new technologies.
In order to improve service inside high-rise buildings, AT&T will place the infrastructure inside the buildings. “It’s no longer just a matter of putting more antennas on top of these buildings. What we are now doing is rather than lining the buildings from the outside, we are going into the buildings and lining them from the inside,” says Stephenson.
This saves space, but creates a problem of backup power generation, which is not practical inside buildings.
For the new devices to function reliably, network providers need an improved power grid. The telecom industry cannot achieve a wholesale improvement of the electrical grid by itself, and Stephenson plans to take up this matter with the FCC. “I think the challenge to the [Chairman of the FCC] will be: ‘Let’s step up now and begin to ask: What are we going to do about the electric grid?’”
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