5G and Beyond

AT&T's networking chief downplays C-band delay in 5G

AT&T's Jeff McElfresh said that worries over the operator's midband 5G delay have been "somewhat overblown." He added that temporary tweaks to the operator's network will not have a "major impact" on its customers.

"I have a lot of confidence we will work through this," McElfresh said Tuesday during an investor event.

McElfresh is the CEO of AT&T Communications, the division of the company in charge of selling 5G and fiber Internet connections.

McElfresh (Source: AT&T)
(Source: AT&T)

AT&T last week joined Verizon in agreeing to reduce the power levels of its nationwide C-band operations, and to further tweak operations that are near airports, for a period of six months, until July 6. The companies previously agreed to delay their C-band network launches for a month, until January.

At issue are concerns of federal aviation officials that 5G in newly freed C-band spectrum could affect some radio altimeters used in aircraft. AT&T and Verizon said their actions would provide officials with more time to study how 5G in C-band spectrum might affect radio altimeters.

"In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn't be overly concerned about this from an investor perspective," McElfresh argued.

AT&T spent roughly $28 billion on C-band spectrum licenses at an FCC auction earlier this year, and still plans to light up around 40MHz of that spectrum sometime next year to cover around 70 million people with 5G. C-band spectrum is considered ideal for 5G from a coverage and performance perspective.

McElfresh said that 5G in C-band spectrum might only affect "vintage" altimeters. Further, he said that only a "single digit percentage" of AT&T's customers and cell towers are near the airports where the company will power down its C-band transmissions.

Finally, McElfresh said that AT&T's overall C-band buildout plans remain on track. The company earlier this year said it will spend an additional $6 billion to $8 billion between 2022 and 2024 to deliver 5G services over its new midband C-band spectrum licenses to 100 million people in early 2023.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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