AT&T's Smith: Fiber is an integral part of combined wireline-wireless carrier approach

As AT&T (NYSE: T) is moving forward with its fiber to the premises (FTTP) rollout for business and residential customers, the service provider is following an integrated wireless and wireline carrier strategy.

Bill Smith, president of technology operations for AT&T told investors at the Wells Fargo 2016 Convergence & Connectivity Symposium that it will use the fiber to provide wireless backhaul supporting 5G wireless on its macro towers or small cell infrastructure.

"The thing that I like about our position as an integrated carrier is that as I go in now to build out fiber-to-the-prem with this GPON architecture, or even into the business areas with the same, you can do it with the thought of having 5G services coming along," Smith said. "As many of you know your propagation areas are very short, so the reality is that there's no such thing as a wireless network because all networks are built on a wired infrastructure and it's really how long the air link is that matters."

Smith said that having a growing set of fiber assets will enable it to compete effectively as an integrated carrier.

"I think the way we're architecting and building our network with an integrated approach puts us in a very good position going forward," Smith said. "Fiber is and will be an integral part of what we need to be doing."

At the same time that it rolls out fiber to businesses, the service provider is moving forward with its FCC commitment to build out fiber service to 11.7 million customer locations.

This is part of the agreement the service provider made to complete its $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV.

While Smith could not provide specific numbers, he did say that AT&T could exceed its current build out commitments.  

"If I look back at my career, every time we had an initiative to get to a certain amount of homes passed or customers passed, we always wound up exceeding that," Smith said. "As cost curves continue to drive down it makes the economics change and I don't think that would be the stopping point."

Smith added that there's other build out initiatives that AT&T can't cite as part of the FCC commitment related to CAF II and building out fiber in new developments.

"There are some other parts of things we're doing that we're not allowed to take credit for," Smith said. "There are limits to how much Greenfield construction we can put in there and some of the Connect America Funds can't be included."

AT&T will also look for ways to use 5G to complement the FTTP builds with higher speed services.

"I think if you look five years in the future, the last 1,000 feet may not be fiber; it may be 5G wireless and we'll still be providing 1 Gbps of connectivity, so who cares if there's a fiber facility connecting it or not," Smith said.

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