AT&T can scale FirstNet towers and upgrade to 5G with a software update

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has claimed upgrading the company's FirstNet towers to 5G will just require scaling them and performing a software update.

FirstNet is AT&T’s network for first responders and will cover all 50 states, 5 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia – including rural communities and tribal lands in those states and territories.

Stephenson in an investor's conference: “We’ll be equipping every single cell site for 5G such that, when 5G is ready to go – when it’s ready for prime time – our turn-up of 5G is a software load, it’s a software upgrade.”

The company expects around 15,000 towers to be built in year one, and up to ~45,000 over a five-year period. Scaling all those cell towers is not a simple task, even if the software update may be.

“To build out this FirstNet capability, this first responder network, we have to go climb every cell tower,” continued Stephenson. “Literally, we have to go touch every cell tower over the next couple of years.”

AT&T has promised to launch 5G in 12 cities by the end of the year.

Reading into Stephenson’s comments, it sounds as if the operator expects to be able to switch on 5G from its FirstNet towers in 2019.

The strategy from AT&T is well played. At the same time as installing hardware for FirstNet, which is going to be easier to gain local approval for due to the improvements for emergency services, it can begin setting up its 5G infrastructure.

FirstNet is also subsidised by the government, although its own ~$40 billion contributions over 25 years do somewhat dwarf it.

AT&T expects FirstNet and 5G network-supporting fibre to be available in around 14 million locations within the next 12 months.

(Image Credit: Randall Stephenson, COO AT&T at Mplanet by Josh Hallett used under CC BY 2.0)

What are your thoughts on AT&T’s strategy with FirstNet and 5G? Let us know in the comments.

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