March 14, 2022
According to AT&T's chief executive officer, the company is still in its first act.
That act, said John Stankey, involves shedding the company's troublesome media business and focusing on building out a 5G and fiber network. The goal, he said, is to become "America's best broadband provider."
"The AT&T story will be written in two acts. Today we'll focus on the first act, and that is taking our current asset base and delivering competitive returns," Stankey explained.
But during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with analysts and investors last week, Stankey offered some tantalizing hints on where AT&T might be going after 2024 when it finishes its current 5G and fiber network buildouts.
Figure 1: (Source: Roman Tiraspolsky/Alamy Stock Photo)
"On what I refer to as Act Two, we are doing a lot of work today that is enabling us to open up aspects of the network for others to come in and start at offering value-added services associated with it," he said in response to a question on the topic. "In addition, there are things that we can do with our customer base in order to give them control."
Stankey said that the CIOs of large companies have been asking AT&T for the ability to manage employee connections no matter where they are.
"How do we begin instantiating software that can add these features back into the network that allow us to put value add on top of it and sell those managed services or capabilities back into the core connectivity that we put in place?" he said, adding that AT&T has been working with hyperscale cloud companies to attach network capabilities to specific applications and services.
"I'm not talking about moving up the stack to try to attack a Salesforce, or to try to replace someone who is in the applications space," he said. "I'm talking about moving up the stack to do things with our network that allows us to refer our connectivity, because it will work better with people who are running more sophisticated software on top of that stack."
Stankey didn't provide any further insights. However, his comments certainly seem to build on the announcements AT&T started making in 2014 about adding software and virtualization technologies into its network. That effort by AT&T was designed to shift the company off expensive, proprietary hardware and onto software-powered network elements that could run on top of standard, off-the-shelf computing hardware.
More recently, AT&T has been among a leading group of network operators shifting its core networking functions into the cloud. The company last year announced a deal with Microsoft that involves moving AT&T's 5G core network operations into Microsoft's Azure cloud service.
But really, Stankey's comments appear to dovetail most closely with those from Dish Network executives. "Our opinion is that you need to be cloud-based and you need to be automated to do it, to slice your network. So, we're going to have an advantage there," Dish Network's Charlie Ergen said late last year of the company's planned 5G network.
Other Dish executives offer similar outlooks. "You have to have the degrees of freedom within the platform and the architecture to support those different solutions based on what that enterprise need is. So, there's no silver bullet, and one application isn't going to win the opportunity here. It's the ability to put it all together on a common platform," said Dish's Stephen Bye, the executive who will be in charge of selling Dish's 5G services to enterprise customers.
Broadly, Dish executives have argued that the company's planned network will be far more agile than those of its incumbent rivals because it's being built natively on nimble software and cloud architecture.
That kind of network design, and the services that could come from it, certainly appear to be in Stankey's sights as he plans AT&T's second act.
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