Gigabit Cities

AT&T Grows Gigabit Goals

Austin has quickly become the unofficial epicenter of the Gigabit Cities movement, with multiple telecom and cable operators now vying for the gigabit attention of the city's tech-savvy residents. AT&T made the latest move this week by expanding network reach and speeds in the region, while also adding Chicago and Atlanta to its list of targets for future gigabit rollouts.

In Austin and parts of eight surrounding communities, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) says it can now provide symmetrical gigabit speeds to all existing U-verse with GigaPower customers, giving them "up to 1 Gbit/s." Dahna Hull, VP of GigaPower at AT&T, tells Light Reading that the carrier is using that language to manage customers' expectations and acknowledge device and WiFi limitations, and the reality of multiple devices competing for bandwidth within many homes, which can drag speeds down. (See Are Gigabit Cities Lands of Confusion?.)

"Customers are becoming more and more knowledgeable, but they haven't experienced this sort of speed before, so they have to learn about it -- what kind of NIC card they might need in their PC, for example," she says. To address the "up to" issue, at least in part, AT&T is in the process of upgrading its U-verse offering to 802.11ac and will let existing customers swap out their gateways once available, Hull says.

AT&T only announced gigabit intent in Chicago and Atlanta, and no dates or pricing yet. But Austin is already an established gigabit hotspot: Grande Communications already sells gigabit services in parts of the region for $64.99/month, and it's an announced target of both Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Google Fiber Inc. AT&T is testing different pricing plans in different regions, Hull says, and in Austin a gig costs $70/month.

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AT&T's gigabit effort is primarily aimed at residential consumers in larger cities, but the carrier still believes the availability of gigabit networks will spur both economic development (chiefly in the form of more connected home-based workers in those cities) and app creation in areas such as education and health care -- and that those networks and speeds will benefit a broad range of users.

"Obviously tech-savvy early adopters love it -- but you also might have a musician who wants to collaborate and share music," Hull says. "People are starting to be more mobile, whether in their personal or business lives. Then there are millennials, gamers, grandparents -- it really does cross a variety of different demographics."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

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