AT&T gives gratis bump-up in fiber speeds

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AT&T Fiber is marketed to more than 14.5 million customer locations. (Getty Images)

AT&T seems re-invigorated about its AT&T Fiber offering, today announcing that it’s giving its customers a free bump in speeds.

The company is boosting its 100 Mbps customers to 300 Mbps, and it’s bumping its 300 Mbps customers to 500 Mbps. It will still offer its 1 gig plan as well, and these customers get HBO Max included.

For a number of years fiber has been regarded as too expensive to deploy in most places. But the Covid-19 pandemic is causing a renewed interest in the connectivity. With so many people working and learning from home, they’re clamoring for faster broadband. And they’d like it to provide symmetrical downstream and upstream speeds. The broadband industry, as well as the U.S. government, have heard the cries, and they’re responding.

In AT&T’s case, its top executives touted their fiber plans in the company’s first quarter 2021 earnings call last week. AT&T CEO John Stankey said the company was on track to build out fiber to 3 million more consumer and business locations in 2021.

RELATED:  AT&T feeling good on fiber as gains continue in Q1

Of today’s speed bumps, Rick Welday, executive vice president and general manager for AT&T Broadband, said, “A significant percent of customers” choose the company’s 1 gig fiber tier. “Over time I would expect you to see gig and multi-gig and less below gig tiers,” said Welday. “People need more speed than they used to need. And they need it in the upload too.”

“If there’s anything we’ve learned from that past year, it’s that fast, reliable and affordable internet is becoming a critical need for all Americans,” said Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner. “At least three-quarters of Americans would not move to a place that does not have broadband.”

Interest in Wi-Fi

As part of today’s news, AT&T said its fiber customers will get a compatible gateway, either the BGW320 or BGW210. Welday said the BGW320 includes Wi-Fi 6 and will also have Wi-Fi 6 extenders. 

He said AT&T engineers have recently been thinking a lot more about the equipment that goes inside the consumer’s home or business, and they’re also thinking a lot more about Wi-Fi.

“I think all of us in the ISP space used to focus on the hardware we put in the home to be cost-effective,” he said. But there’s been a “paradigm shift” to put the best gateway in the home. He also said Wi-Fi is “kind of a new thing” for fiber providers, but it has become “central to how we think.”

“In our meetings, you would see us talking over diagrams and propagation around the home and how we can enhance that experience,” said Welday.

This interest in Wi-Fi by AT&T may be in response to competition from the big cable companies, Comcast and Charter, both of which have millions of Wi-Fi access points in homes and businesses across the country. Comcast and Charter have talked about the benefits of offloading their mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) traffic onto these Wi-Fi access points. But Wi-Fi also helps strengthen the cable companies' relationships with its customers.

AT&T’s home gateways will support a security suite that the provider is adding to its fiber service today. The company will include its AT&T Internet Security for fiber customers at no additional cost. Via an app, customers can receive an automatic guard from online threats throughout their whole home, including on Wi-Fi.

Fiber stats

AT&T Fiber is marketed to more than 14.5 million customer locations. A spokesperson said, “Our fiber deployment is both FTTP and FTTH.”  The company’s fiber penetration is at more than 35%.

Its fiber footprint is found in 21 states, and there are 90 metros within that 21-state footprint. AT&T reported it has 5.2 million total consumer fiber subscribers.

“More than 650,000 U.S. business building are lit with fiber from AT&T, enabling high-speed fiber connections to more than 2.5 million U.S. business customer locations,” said the spokesperson. “Nationwide, more than 9 million business customer locations are on or within 1,000 feet of our fiber.”

In terms of its goal to pass 3 million more customers in 2021, Welday said the company is interested in all kinds of locations, whether urban, suburban or rural. “Definitely, we are looking at this as mass market, where we have fiber running past neighborhoods and where there are small businesses in that same area.”

He said the company is “integrated in our planning,” meaning that it’s mindful of the residential opportunity, what businesses might be in an area, and also if the fiber would serve its mobile backhaul needs. “Those used to be separately engineered,” he said.