Q&A: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on the Promise and Potential of 5G

Business Roundtable
May 6 · 4 min read

Q&A with Randall Stephenson, AT&T Chairman and CEO and Chair of the Business Roundtable Technology Committee

Q: What is the strategic advantage of being the first country to deploy 5G?

Stephenson: Within 5 years, 5G will change our world and society in ways we can’t imagine now. 5G isn’t just “the next G,” it’s truly a new generation. 5G will be up to 10 times faster than 4G, operating in near-real time, with a nearly imperceptible lag between action and response.

But beyond its faster speeds and quicker response times, 5G will connect and control vast amounts of infrastructure — defense, transportation, manufacturing, utilities, healthcare, banking, autonomous cars … you name it.

5G enables a world of hyper-connectivity. WiFi allows hundreds of devices to be connected, 4G allows thousands of devices, 5G will connect millions of devices and sensors per square mile. And it will enable you to isolate and locate a device on a 5G network within centimeters.

Put all this together and you can begin to conceive of a very different world where massive connectivity will generate hyper-insights into everything — consumers, cities, the environment, the military, and beyond.

Q: How will 5G affect the U.S. economy?

Stephenson: The U.S. is leading the world in launching 5G networks with best-in-class security. That’s because U.S. companies are aggressively investing, innovating and competing in the free market. CTIA and Accenture estimate that 5G is poised to add $500 billion to the nation’s GDP and create 3 million new jobs.

We are seeing healthy competition among all US major wireless providers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. All 4 providers have or will launch 5G services by mid-2019. And by 2023, nearly 50% of mobile users in North America will be on 5G. Already, AT&T’s 5G service is live in 19 markets.

Q: 5G will enable many new applications. Which applications are you most excited about?

Stephenson: Emerging technologies will come together to create faster, more precise, distributed networks. 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing are interrelated foundational technologies that will enable significant economic growth in the U.S. and worldwide. That’s why people talk about what’s coming as the fourth industrial revolution.

5G networks will allow substantially faster, more secure, and lower-latency wireless connectivity than we’ve ever experienced.

Quantum computing will offer dramatically faster, higher-capacity computing and AI will provide the logic and intelligence that weaves massive amounts of data together into useful, actionable information. AI will combine the technological advances of 5G and quantum computing to draw insights, reach conclusions and solve problems in ways that are similar to human intelligence and cognition — and based on data sets that are infinitely beyond the capacity of the human mind.

Future 5G use cases:

  • Healthcare: Getting an annual exam or calling the doctor’s office when you’re sick will become less necessary. Wearables and home sensors will provide near-constant monitoring of your health and can alert you and your healthcare provider to potential ailments or abnormalities. Imagine what that means for parents who send children to school with medical conditions?
  • Retail: With a customer’s consent, when they walk past your storefront, your store will be able to sense them, and — based on the computing power happening right at the edge of each device and location — instantaneously show them what they’ll look like in their new wardrobe on high definition screens in the store window.
  • Financial Services: Insurance companies will be able to dispatch drones to assess damage or use holographic teleportation to enable adjusters to more rapidly tour damaged property, inspect vehicles and provide benefits.
  • Manufacturing: When the network gives advanced warning that a piece of specialized equipment needs a repair, augmented reality using low-latency 5G-enabled headsets will make technicians more efficient. Technicians can travel to a site and work with partner engineers at headquarters, who will remotely guide them through the repair process, using context-sensitive 3D animations to walk them through the necessary steps.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to rapid deployment of 5G networks? How do we overcome it?

Stephenson: We applaud the Administration’s continued commitment to maintaining America’s leadership position. It ensures that, through tried-and-true free-market incentives, all Americans no matter where they live will enjoy the benefits 5G will foster in jobs, investment, and economic growth. And we commend the recent actions President Trump and FCC Chairman Pai have taken on the 5G FAST and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund initiatives to drive private-sector 5G innovation and investment.

AT&T has invested more in the U.S. than any other public company over the past 5 years to deliver innovative technology. A sensible regulatory environment helps us make investments where they’re needed most, so we can bring consumers the best in connectivity. The U.S. government can help ensure that our nation leads in 5G by continuing to eliminate barriers to wireless deployment and by making more spectrum available for commercial use.

Additionally, the U.S. and other countries should work together to ensure a competitive and scalable supply chain that addresses the so-called “lock-in” problem. That happens when certain vendor equipment components are not interoperable with equipment from other vendors. By default, this technological lock-in creates a financial lock-in for wireless companies. We believe every supplier should support network component interoperability so that wireless companies can mix and match network components to deliver the best service to customers and address issues that governments may raise.

In order to promote U.S. innovation and transition to open-source networks, we need to create incentives to promote more R&D in the U.S. and accelerate the transition to open-source networks built on modular equipment.

We look forward to continuing to work with federal, state and local governments to make the promise of 5G a reality for every American.

Business Roundtable

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