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Network Architecture & Reliability

Materiality Assessment Topic: Network reliability | Global Reporting Initiative G4 Indicators: EC1, EC7

Issue Summary

Global communications networks have revolutionized the way we live, work and play. Mobile broadband has the potential to help us transition to a more efficient economy. Already, it has transformed the way we communicate, educate our children, deliver health care, consume energy, obtain news and other information, engage in commerce and interact with government. This explosion in mobile internet has also led to unprecedented increases in wireless data traffic.

Our Position

We ensure our network is reliable by investing, innovating and working to help ensure continuity of operations.

Combating wireless network congestion is a challenge that we and our industry peers face every day as customer demand continues to skyrocket. Mobile data traffic on AT&T’s national wireless network increased more than 250,000% from January 2007 through December 2016. Our advanced network carries more than 150 petabytes of traffic on an average business day.

We continue to take proactive measures to meet exploding customer demand and address our wireless spectrum needs. Additionally, we’re in the process of transitioning our network to IP-based technology, and leading the evolution to 5G.

2016 Key Performance Indicators
  • Investment in wired and wireless networks in 2016: $22.4B
  • Investment in Network Disaster Recovery Program — cumulative since 1992: $600M+

Our Action

With hundreds of millions of devices connected to our network, we continue to invest in and enhance our network to drive service improvements. Over the last 5 years (2012-2016), AT&T invested more in the United States than any other public company. Our total investment (U.S. and international) during this period, including capital investment and acquisitions of spectrum and wireless operations, was more than $140 billion. Our 4G LTE network now covers more than 400 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.

AT&T Fiber, our ultra-fast internet service, offers a 1 gigabit capable connectioni in 52 major metros with plans to reach at least 75 metros. Today we have the largest fiber network within our 21-state home-internet footprint.ii

We now market this service on our 100% fiber connection to 4.6 million consumer and small business locations across 52 major metros. We expect to add 2 million consumer and small business locations in 2017, and we plan to reach at least 12.5 million consumer and small business locations by mid-2019.

Fiber in the AT&T network provides the bandwidth needed to support data intensive services such as video, collaboration, cloud services and more through products such as Ethernet transport services, Virtual Private Network, AT&T Dedicated Internet and AT&T Business Fiber. Customers can complement their high-speed internet with network security options and online backup to help protect and virtualize their business-critical information.

For more details, as well as the latest information on our deployment and coverage, visit

Network Innovation

We’re building a network of the future to address rapidly changing customer needs so we can deliver new and unique services faster than ever before. Doing things the old way – simply adding additional equipment to the network as needed – is no longer sustainable. We understand the need to build a new network that can adapt quickly and support the growing demand and evolving nature of communications.

At AT&T, we are reinventing how we operate to more easily manage our services – similar to how they’re provided in cloud data centers. We’re using the latest network design techniques, shifting control from hardware to software, to give customers more control and to make our network faster, simpler and more scalable. This will allow us to collaborate with new players and take advantage of new innovations more quickly and efficiently. It also changes how we do business, how we form relationships with our suppliers and how we manage software:

  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN) shifts control of the network from hardware to software, giving customers more control of their network services. This creates an “intelligent” network that is more flexible, efficient and aware of applications. We’ve already converted 34% of our network functionality to SDN and are on our way to 75% by 2020. Millions of wireless customers are already using our virtualized and software controlled network. Our network virtualization goal for year end 2017 is 55%.
  • Network Function Virtualization (NFV) moves network functions from hardware-based appliances into software platforms running on commodity hardware. This means we can update network functions from almost anywhere and do it quickly without having to redeploy new hardware. We can dynamically reroute traffic, add capacity and introduce new features through programmable, policy-based controllers.
  • We’re designing key software platforms so they can be openly used with well-defined AT&T APIs. This opens up our new ecosystem to non-traditional network players, such as smaller software companies, open source alternatives and universities.
  • We’re growing our supplier ecosystem, seeking out small and nimble companies and traditional telecom vendors to help design and build the systems we need to transition to this new network.

AT&T Network on Demand solutions launched in 2015, and are now being used at nearly 6,000 sites. We’ve launched on-demand capabilities for 3 services to change how businesses manage their networks.

  • AT&T Switched Ethernet Service is available in 171 U.S. metropolitan areas.
    • Customers can adjust their network speeds as needed and dial back down when traffic recedes using a self-service portal.
  • AT&T Dedicated Internet Service is available in 171 U.S. metropolitan areas.
  • AT&T FlexWare is available in more than 200 countries and territories (subject to conditions), allowing businesses to easily and flexibly manage their network
    • Since launching in 2016, we’ve entered into contracts to provide over 2,000 FlexWare devices globally across a wide variety of businesses, both large and small.

There’s much to do before our vision for the SDN is realized, but we’re building this network of the future to address customer needs and to deliver new and unique services to them faster than before. For more information, visit our next-generation network site

Mobility Network Architecture

Our 4G LTE mobility network architecture includes:

  • Putting transmission equipment closer to the antennas on our cell towers to improve network performance, help extend coverage and enhance speed and reliability. Cell towers are connected to the AT&T network via fiber cables – these connections are being enhanced to enable faster wireless connections. Additionally, to help our customers stay connected from almost anywhere, we’re placing antennas where they make the most impact. We’re doing this through the use of small cells, macro cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS).
  • Distributed core to enable low latency and fast speeds. Our network is designed with its core elements distributed across the country. That means data traffic gets on the internet faster, which increases mobile data speeds.
  • Ethernet backhaul to enable fast connections. More than 99% of our mobile data traffic is carried over enhanced backhaul, which moves data at high speeds between cell sites across our wireline network.

AT&T’s Evolution to 5G

We’re also leading the evolution to 5G. We’re always evolving our network and looking forward to what’s next. Work we’re doing on our network today is laying the foundation for standards-based 5G. With a Software-Defined Network, Big Data and Open Source network approach, combined with our superior spectrum position and broadband build-out commitment to millions of locations throughout the U.S., we believe AT&T is in a unique position to support next-generation 5G applications quickly and efficiently.

We currently have validation and testing going on in 5 major labs – Austin, TX, Middletown, NJ, Atlanta, Redmond, WA and San Ramon, CA. The trials and lab work we’re conducting are helping us guide our 5G 3GPP standards contributions. It also starts to set the stage for widespread commercial and mobile availability of standards-based service once the technology standards for 5G are established.

Disaster Response

AT&T is also taking continuous action to help ensure the reliability of its network coverage in stricken areas during times of disaster. Through our Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) organization, we deliver critical resources to areas in need to help ensure the flow of both wireless and wired communications during times of emergency, all backed by centralized command and control designed to optimize effectiveness and efficiency.

We have invested more than $600 million in our NDR program since 1992, which includes specially trained managers, engineers and technicians from across the U.S., as well as a fleet of more than 290 self-contained equipment trailers and support vehicles.

To learn more please see our Disaster Response issue brief.

iActual customer speeds may vary. Download speeds are typically up to 940Mbps due to overhead capacity reserved to deliver the data.

iiBased on publicly available data for the top fiber providers in the AT&T operating footprint.

Updated on: Feb 7, 2018