AT&T Bulks Up HD Streams, LTE Plans
Speaking at the event, held in Newport Beach, Calif., Stankey tried to dispel early concerns about whether AT&T had enough capacity to fuel its IPTV service, announcing that the company intends to introduce four HD streams per home by the end of the year, up from the current three, thanks to a combo of more efficient compression and more bandwidth.
AT&T plans to match that with the ability for subs to control "trick play" functions (e.g. pause, fast-forward, rewind, etc.) on all TVs in the home. Before this upgrade, those functions were available only on the main box, and not to any other boxes feeding off the home network. (See AT&T Jabs at Cable With More Perks .)
"It has been quite an evolution over the last three years," Stankey said, noting that U-verse started off with four standard-def streams. By comparison, most current-generation cable DVRs sport just two tuners. However, many of the CableCARD-based video gateways under development should be able to decrypt six simultaneous streams.
While AT&T has found the capacity to beef up its managed IPTV service, Stankey downplayed the company's positioning against Docsis 3.0-based cable modem services, which typically outpace U-verse's top tier. He questioned whether there's much demand for D3 speeds.
"The fact of the matter is we sell 18- and 24-meg products. The bulk of our customers choose not to buy that," he said, noting that most see the value in AT&T's 6-Mbit/s tier.
Although AT&T and other telcos have been suffering from steep line losses, service enhancements have helped the company keep its video service subscriber base stoked. To wit: AT&T has grown the consolidated U-verse service portfolio into a $4 billion business, Stankey said. "We took 70 percent of the gross adds... in the industry this last quarter." AT&T added 209,000 net U-verse TV subs in the second quarter, giving it a total of 2.5 million.
Stankey also offered more details on AT&T's launch of LTE, set for mid-2011, noting that the telco expects to offer it in between 70 million to 75 million POPs by the end of next year. (See LTE Will Reshape Entire AT&T Network.)
AT&T is testing the technology in Baltimore and Dallas, he said, adding later that the company is building an LTE network that's integrated with its existing UMTS network. "So customers take the features and capabilities that they have on UMTS forward to LTE," Stankey explained.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), an AT&T wireless rival, intends to initially offer LTE service for laptop users, following with smartphone support, in the first half of next year. The company has said it expects to launch LTE in 25 to 30 markets covering 100 million people by year's end and to polish off its national LTE deployment by sometime in 2013. (See Verizon's LTE: How Much More $$ Than 3G? and Verizon Says LTE Will Match 3G Footprint in 2013.)
"It takes time to build these networks, and so our intent is, as we have said... [is] to be in a commercial situation to launch by mid next year," Stankey said.
Stankey was somewhat apologetic regarding criticisms about AT&T's 3G network, but noted that there are 50 percent more smartphones on his network than on Verizon's. He also thinks the worst is behind the carrier. "We believe we are in a pretty good space right now," he said.
But Stankey declined to divulge any projected data demands for AT&T's wireless network as it moves into LTE mode.
"Frankly, I believe this is part of the intellectual property of understanding this [business]," he said. "There has been a lot of learning, and a lot of knowledge that has gone on over the last couple years -- learned painfully admittedly. I don't know that I want to help everybody through that."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable