AT&T chief talks 5G technology at annual Little Rock Chamber fete

December 9-15, 2019

By Wesley Brown 


AT&T’s TimeWarner unit to roll out new 5G direct-to-consumer content product in May 2020


Big and transformative changes in media connectivity, security and content delivery are ahead in 2020 for the millions of AT&T customers in Arkansas and across the U.S.


During a “fireside chat” at the annual meeting of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (Dec. 4, 2019), AT&T Chairman and President Randall Stephenson shared the stage with former Alltel Corp. CEO Scott Ford, now co-founder of Little Rock-based Westrock Group. In sharing personal anecdotes and details of his 35-year corporate career with the predecessor of Southwestern Bell, Stephenson told the noontime crowd of more than a thousand people that AT&T will release a new 5G-based, “direct-to-consumer” content product in 2020 to more than 60 million customers.


“As a result, we will have a nationwide footprint of 5G,” he said.


Following the media giant’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner in June 2018, Stephenson said AT&T COO John Stankey has led an internal effort to enable the former Baby Bell telecom to instantly connect customers to their mobile device, the internet, or a full network through so-called 5G technology.


“So, what happens with 5G, and yes its fast – but it is more than fast,” said Stephenson. “You are looking at the first opportunity to have instantaneous connectively. And you can imagine where it will take us in terms of new services and capabilities. But that is just a small part of it.”


In prompting Stephenson to offer more details of the next-generation technology, Ford shared his experience with Alltel, which was sold to Verizon Wireless for $28.5 billion in June 2008. Ford said Alltel used digital analog or 3G cellular tower technology when it had one of the nation’s largest wireless networks.


“When we went to 3G to 4G, again it was 30 percent to 40 percent faster; when we go from 4G to 5G, that a radically different thing than any experience that people have ever had,” said Ford, who joined the AT&T board in 2012.


Today, AT&T’s transformation as a former Baby Bell and wireless giant involves integrating a fully functional media subsidiary with well-known brands such as CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, the Cartoon Network and New Line Cinema. With annual revenue forecast of $185 million in 2019, AT&T has planned a capital investment of $140 billion for its new WarnerMedia unit.


Stephenson gave kudos to streaming giant Netflix Inc. with changing the way the industry looks at delivering media content. He said 5G deployment will allow unprecedented real-time wireless connections without a co-axial coaxial cable, satellite or other wired device.  


“But here’s the important part, when you have this kind of speed and no latency, you begin to think differently about the entire architecture of what kind of services you design,” said the AT&T chief.


Dallas-based AT&T is now engaged in nationwide competition with rivals such as Verizon, T-Mobile and other wireless carrier to be the first to rollout a nationwide 5G network, which moves cellular communications beyond the 4G LTE mobile networks of today. 


Two weeks ago, AT&T announced it planning to bring 5G service to tens of millions of consumers and businesses this year, ahead of plans to offer nationwide 5G in the first half of 2020. Although AT&T has spent nearly $550 million on its wireless and wired networks here over the past four years, company spokesman Dale Ingram told the Daily Record he did not have any details of the company’s 5G plans for Arkansas.


Besides the Stephenson-Ford onstage chat, AT&T Arkansas President Ronnie Dedman gave his first speech as the local chamber’s board chairman. Dedman, who was named AT&T’s top Arkansas executive last summer, replaced Friday, Eldredge and Clark partner Kevin Crass as chair of the chamber board.  


PHOTO CAPTIONS:  (Photos by Wesley Brown)


1. Ronald Dedman, president of AT&T Arkansas, was introduced on Wednesday (Dec. 4, 2019) as the 2020 Chairman of the Board of the Little Rock Chamber.


2. AND 3. AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson (left) talks about the media giant’s transformation following the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner in June 2018. He shared the stage with former Alltel Corp. Chairman and CEO Scott Ford, who is also co-founder and CEO of Westrock Group and a member of AT&T’s Board of Directors.


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