AT&T's Lowband 5G Covers 50M People, Will Go Nationwide Mid-Year 2020

AT&T executives say that their lowband 850MHz 5G footprint now covers 50 million people in the US, as the operator plans to expand that nationwide to fully 200 million people by mid-year 2020.

"We have the low and midband spectrum to go nationwide," declared AT&T's Chief Operating Officer (COO) John Stankey on the operator’s fourth quarter earnings call on Wednesday morning. The company also says it plans to increase the number of its millimeter-wave (mmWave) 5G markets. The company currently offers the highband, mmWave 5G service in parts of 35 cities.

Capital expenditure for 2019 was nearly $20 billion, CFO John Stephens noted, with the company predicting that it will spend $20 billion in 2020. However, when the company's FirstNet reimbursements are included, AT&T spent a total of $23 billion on capex in 2019 and will spend $20 billion in 2020.

AT&T reported that it has completed 75% of its nationwide FirstNet network build, and expects to reach the 80% mark by the middle of 2020. The operator's FirstNet build is tied into 4G and 5G updates for AT&T, as the operator can update sites with 5G as it rolls out the 4G FirstNet emergency workers' network.

Stephens said that AT&T added 229,000 postpaid (monthly contract) phones in the fourth quarter. The CFO says that AT&T added about 1 million phones overall (postpaid and prepaid) in 2019.

Stephens and Stankey played down the idea of a "supercycle" in 5G phones, but expect an increase in 5G phone sales in the second half of the year. "We are going to see a degree of uptick," says COO Stankey.

This is coming off of three years of low upgrade rates, CFO Stephens notes.

AT&T reported fourth quarter revenue of $46.8 billion, and adjusted earnings of $0.89 a share. AT&T's shares were down $1.04 -- or 2.68% -- at $37.54 on Wednesday morning trading.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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