The AT&T Issue Brief Library

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Network Reliability

Materiality Assessment Topic: Network reliability | Global Reporting Initiative G4 Indicators: EC1, EC8

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

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 150,000 percent from January 2007 through December 2015. Our advanced network carries 117.4 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 preparing for the transition to IP-based technology, working with the FCC and others on potential trials to gain insight into some of the more difficult issues that likely will be presented as we transition from legacy networks.

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 five years (2010-2015), AT&T invested more in the U.S. than any other public company. Our total investment (U.S. and international), including capital investment and acquisitions of spectrum and wireless operations, was more than $140 billion.  Our 4G LTE network now covers nearly 365 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.

AT&T GigaPower is live in 21 of the nation’s largest metros today, and we’ve announced plans to offer Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second to homes, apartments and small businesses in parts of 35 additional metros across the United States – which will total at least 56 metros served.

More than 1 million homes, apartments and small business locations have access to speeds up to 1 gigabit per second over the AT&T GigaPower network, and we expect to more than double location availability by the end of 2016. 

Additionally, we’ll continue to roll out our fastest Internet services over a 100% fiber network to reach more than 14 million residential and commercial locations.

We’ve added 1 million additional business customer locations to our fiber network since 2012 when the company began its aggressive fiber expansion program. AT&T offers business customers high-speed Internet products on its fiber network in every major metro in the company’s 21-state footprint.

The AT&T fiber network provides the bandwidth needed to support data intensive services such as video, collaboration, cloud services and more through products such as Ethernet, Virtual Private Networking, Managed Internet Service, AT&T GigaPowerSM® 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 Architecture

Our 4G LTE network architecture includes:

  • 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.
  • Remote radio heads and network element placements to enhance speed and reliability. Network radio components are placed near the top of the antenna, which minimizes power loss. This translates into fast speeds and greater reliability across AT&T’s 4G LTE network.
  • Ethernet backhaul to enable fast connections. More than 99 percent of our mobile data traffic is carried over enhanced backhaul, which moves data at high speeds across our wireline network. Our 4G LTE is expanding rapidly and achieving speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G.
  • Only one radio drawing handset battery power to contribute to a stronger signal and faster speeds. Our handsets require only one radio because we use Circuit Switched Fallback technology to carry our voice traffic. Some other carriers require two radios – one for the LTE data network and one for the legacy network for voice or data. Each radio in a device draws battery power and must be worked into the design.

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 need to build a new network that can adapt quicker and support the growing demand and evolving nature of communications.

We’re reinventing how we operate, to manage our services easier – 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 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, our relationships with 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.
  • 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.
  • Our goal is to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of our network using this new architecture by 2020. We laid the foundation in 2015 with the first 5.7%. We’ll accelerate to 30% in 2016.
  • We launched a first-of-its-kind platform called Network on Demand. Using a self-service portal, customers can adjust their network speeds as needed, and dial back down when traffic recedes. We now have signed more than 700 U.S. customer contracts.

There’s much to do before our vision for the software-defined network 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

Updated on: Aug 2, 2016