AT&T puts cable companies on notice with fiber plan

AT&T is looking to give cable companies a run for their money after years of lax competition, with CFO Pascal Desroches expressing confidence in its ability to steal share as its fiber expansion progresses.

During a Credit Suisse investor conference, Desroches said historically AT&T “probably allowed the cable companies to execute and to take share in that market in a significant way and without much challenge.” Now, it is focused on “pressing up on those opportunities,” with things already starting to improve.

“In instances where we have fiber and a cable incumbent in the market we feel really comfortable about our ability to perform and we have outperformed and gained shares in those markets,” he said.

His comments come as AT&T embarks on an effort to more than double its fiber footprint to 30 million customer locations by end-2025.

Last week, Dell’Oro Group VP of Broadband Access and Home Networking Jeff Heynen noted fiber providers are increasingly using 10-gig capable kit for new deployments, aiming to fend off expected competition from cable companies upgrading to DOCSIS 4.0. Though he didn’t specify 10-gig capabilities, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said earlier this month its fiber assets are “multi-gig enabled” and hinted new service plans could be in the works.

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Desroches reiterated AT&T will primarily focus on filling in coverage within and adjacent to its existing footprint. In addition to targeting consumers, the CFO said AT&T will focus on serving the needs of small businesses, which he noted are increasingly run out of people’s homes.

“The lines are very blurred between what is considered a consumer offering and a small business offering. Oftentimes people start businesses out of their homes, so they are using home broadband,” he explained. “So identifying opportunities to really provide a better solution set, a better toolkit for those who are interested in starting small businesses are opportunities we are really excited about.”

U.K. operator BT similarly homed in on small businesses earlier this month, launching a dedicated business unit to cater to the needs of enterprises with nine or fewer employees.

In the consumer wireline segment, Desroches said AT&T is “creating nice momentum” in terms of fiber additions. For the second half of 2021, it expects fiber-related revenues to grow faster than declines in legacy voice and copper.

Fixed wireless

AT&T has gone back and forth on the value of fixed wireless access (FWA), but from Desroches’ comments seems to have landed on a position where it will use the technology where other, better options aren’t viable.

“There are places that are out of footprint, whether it be rural communities or even those that are adjacent to our footprint, where fixed wireless may be a fine solution. But in instances where we have existing fiber, wireline, we believe that the demand for symmetrical speed is going to increase significantly, demand for excellent performance in the home will increase significantly. And so the only product that provides the capabilities that we’re going to need going forward is fiber,” he said.

“So yes, there is a place for fixed wireless. Some customers it will have to satisfy, but for many customers it’s not going to be good enough and we want to be able to satisfy both sets of customers,” he concluded.