AT&T CEO John Donovan slapped down recent 5G criticism by Verizon and T-Mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Those companies and some others have criticized them saying AT&T is “slapping 5G stickers” on upgraded 4G phones. They say it is misleading and confusing to consumers and is damaging to 5G in the long run. Donovan says that is really just not the case.
They Are a Little Wounded by Our Success Last Month
The fact that we have beachfront property inside their heads makes me smile. But that’s really just not the case. If you think about the history of our industry, the top part of that phone has always given an indication of the network information. In the early days, the number of bars told you where you were coverage wise.
Then when you were paying per megabyte you’d look to see where to get a Wi-Fi network. That’s always been the information that was available to customers about what’s going to be available and what can they do.
For us, it was a natural evolution. We announced two years ago at this show, actually in 2017, that we were going to do this. The fact that we did it and then all of a sudden our competitors have decided that they’re upset by it, I think that they’re wounded a little by our success last month.
AT&T Bringing 5G to Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium
In December, just last month, we launched the first 5G mobile version that’s standards-based, you can buy a device and you can get on the network for 12 cities. The first part of this year we’re going to roll out in another seven cities. So we’re well down the path. We’ve been announcing some of these use cases that we’re doing with businesses.
Just this morning we announced we’re going to work with the Dallas Cowboys to get 5G into AT&T Stadium and Rush Hospital in Chicago, where we’re going to try to transform healthcare inside the provider hospitals. and so we’re really excited about the opportunity to continue marching down this path.
5G is Going to Radically Reshape Technology
The 4G network itself was really the epicenter of the 4G revolution which was the device itself. As you think about how it comes together though, each of these generations, the network, the device, and then the applications, have to come together. Sometimes you get those things timed perfectly. Sometimes one is ahead of another. At the end of the day, the consumer benefits are going to arrive when all three of them come together at the same time.
What’s different about 5G is not just that the network is more powerful. We always think of it as a real-time network. It’s also that we’ve been getting calls from customers in advance that say I’m going to do a new architecture or a new design on something that you’re going to see on the CES floor.
It’s going to radically reshape the size of goggles, for instance, for virtual reality. It’s going to change how you would architect an autonomous car. So this is different because these things are going to happen and come together much more quickly than they did during the early days of the iPhone and the evolution of the 3G and the 4G network.
Asked about subsidizing phones again or subsidizing something else to help aid the 5G rollout:
Possibility of Bringing Back Phone Subsidies
That’s a TBD. I do think that when you build a long term relationship with a customer and that relationship is expanding it does give you some degrees of freedom to say we’re going to help you with the economics of this or help with the economics of that. It’s a TBD.
I’m not trying to shy away from the question. I think that there’s a possibility that you could get back into subsidies of some sort. Today, what customers appreciate with us is they have the ability to get HBO or music so that they get some added benefit with their traditional network.