AT&T Expands on Wireless Plans for Project Velocity IP Rollout

Brian Washburn
Brian Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • AT&T expects to add 10,000+ macro cells, 1,000+ DAS and 40,000+ small cells: These and other providers’ plans will keep installers busy.
  • AT&T has timetables for VoLTE (2014) and QoS (2015); LTE Advanced features are on the roadmap without target dates.

AT&T’s Project Velocity IP plans made a big splash when the company in November 2012 announced it expected to invest $14 billion in its networks. To recap what we covered at the time, AT&T plans to cover 300 million people – 96% of the U.S. population – with its 4G LTE and HSDPA+ network. The company continues to invest in spectrum, and intends to deploy distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells to increase its coverage.

For wireline, AT&T plans to increase its in-footprint U-Verse triple play services reach to 33 million locations, and double play (broadband Internet/voice) services to 24 million locations, increasing top-tier download speeds up to 75 Mbps in many locations, and up to 45 Mbps in others. Locations served by neither will have 4G broadband wireless Internet available as an option. Finally, AT&T plans to run fiber to one million additional business locations inside its local footprint. AT&T doesn’t bring up the U.S. FCC’s National Broadband Plan when it discusses Project Velocity IP, though the company’s goals such as near-universal broadband IP services availability within its footprint mirror the FCC’s goals.

In January 2013, AT&T disclosed more details of Project Velocity IP’s wireless aspects. AT&T’s comprehensive national 4G coverage goal will need a huge amount of infrastructure deployed: 10,000 or more macro cell sites, 1,000 or more DAS, and 40,000 or more small cell sites. Given AT&T and other wireless providers’ upgrade plans, there are going to be some very busy installers across the country for the next several years. Given these ambitious buildout goals, AT&T will probably put pressure on national and state governments to expedite local permitting processes. Currently, communities may have the same bulky review process for public cell sites, whether it’s macro, small or DAS.

AT&T anticipates starting small cell deployment in Q1 2013. The company expects its anticipated new fiber buildouts to pull double duty, as infrastructure to connect some of its planned DAS and small cell deployments. In fact, AT&T executives expect they will need to tap every possible backhaul venue – including new and current fiber builds, broadband and microwave – to support the anticipated massive data capacity increases as 4G takes on general-purpose business and residential broadband access. When it comes to features like voice over LTE, wireless quality of service (QoS) and LTE Advanced features, it’s still early stages. Currently, AT&T expects to support VoLTE in 2014, and to add broader QoS support in 2015. LTE Advanced deployment doesn’t have official timetables, but is on AT&T’s roadmap as upgrades to the 4G infrastructure AT&T is building out.

Project Velocity IP’s $14 billion represents a massive commitment, but it needs to be put into context. AT&T’s annual capital expenditure budget has been in the $18-$20 billion range. In past major broadband initiatives, AT&T predecessor SBC Communications budgeted $6 billion to build out DSL infrastructure in 13 states under Project Pronto back in 2000, and initially budgeted $4-$6 billion for Project Lightspeed, which enabled U-Verse.  Given the many wireless and wireline parts of Project Velocity IP, the estimated investment is not out of step for AT&T.

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