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Network Architecture & Reliability

Materiality Assessment Topics: Global Reporting Initiative Standard Disclosures: GRI 201-1, Network reliability MA

Issue Summary

Global communications networks and mobile broadband are revolutionizing the way we live, work and play, transforming how we communicate, educate our children, deliver health care, consume energy, obtain news and other information, engage in commerce, and interact with government. However, this explosion in mobile internet has also led to unprecedented increases in wireless data traffic.

Our Position

We’re building a network of the future to address rapidly changing customer needs so we can deliver new and unique services quicker than ever before.

AT&T invests in and upgrades our network to help bring customers all the benefits they expect. We are building our network for reliability, speed and overall performance.

Additionally, we’re in the process of transitioning our network to IP-based technology and leading the evolution to 5G.

Data Highlights

2017 Key Performance Indicators
  • Investment in wired and wireless networks in 2017: $21.6B
  • Investment in Network Disaster Recovery Program — cumulative since 1992: $650M+

Our Action

Mobile data traffic on the AT&T national wireless network increased by more than 360,000% from 2007 through 2017. Our advanced network carries more than 200 petabytes of traffic on an average business day.

Data insights have powered AT&T for decades, providing a better experience for our customers. It’s how we manage a global network that connects hundreds of millions of devices, from smartphones to shipping crates. We currently take about 77 billion overall service-assurance measurements across our wired and wireless network in a typical hour, and make adjustments based on those measurements to improve service. We aggregate and analyze this data in real time to derive insights that help manage our network and deliver a better customer experience.

Network Investment

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 (2013–2017), 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 wireless network now covers more than 400 million people in North America.

AT&T continues to invest in the latest technologies to deliver high-speed internet to urban and rural areas. We have aggressively expanded our fiber footprint over the past few years, both to businesses and consumers. We now market our 100% fiber network to more than 7 million locations. We plan to add 3 million more locations in 2018 and reach at least 12.5 million consumer and small-business locations by mid-2019.

AT&T Internet provided over AT&T Fiber, our 100% fiber network, offers an ultra-fast, 1-gigabit-per-second-capable connection1 across 70 metro areas, with plans to reach at least 84 metros by mid-2019. Today, we have the largest fiber network within our 21-state home-internet footprint.2

We are the largest U.S.-based provider of fiber for businesses nationwide. More than 8 million business customer locations in the U.S. are either on or within 1,000 feet of our fiber, and there are nearly 400,000 U.S. business buildings lit with AT&T Fiber nationwide. This covers more than 1.8 million business customer locations—and we’re adding thousands more buildings each month. For additional information, check out the AT&T Newsroom.

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 AT&T Business Fiber, AT&T Switched Ethernet ServiceSM and AT&T Dedicated Internet.

With fiber at the core of our network, we plan to use a combination of fiber and 5G to be one of the country’s largest high-speed internet providers. Ultimately, we plan to reach more than 50 million locations with speeds up to 50 Mbps, with more than half of those locations seeing near-gig speeds.

For the latest information on our deployment and coverage, visit To learn about our network management policies, see our Network Practices.


In 2017, the First Responder Network Authority selected AT&T to build and manage FirstNet—the first nationwide broadband platform dedicated to America’s first responders. When a significant public safety crisis happens, commercial networks can become congested, making it difficult for first responders to communicate, coordinate and do their jobs. Through this new public-private partnership, AT&T will deliver a dedicated, interoperable platform and ecosystem that will give first responders the technology they need to better communicate and collaborate across agencies and jurisdictions—local, state and national.

All 50 states, 5 territories and the District of Columbia opted into the First Responder Network Authority and our plan to design and build a dedicated communications platform for their respective public safety communities. AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the life of the contract to deliver FirstNet. The First Responder Network Authority is providing success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the first 5 years, as well as 20 MHz of high-value spectrum to support the build of FirstNet. To learn more, visit

Network Security

Network security is at the core of what we do.

Cybersecurity is constantly changing and so are the players, but managing a highly secure network gives AT&T unique expertise in cybersecurity. With 141.6 million wireless lines in the U.S., including more than 38 million connected devices as of December 31, 2017, AT&T secures more connections than any communications company in North America and has unique visibility into new and evolving security threats:


  • Our 8 Security Operations Centers are monitored 24/7/365.
  • We analyze approximately 660 billion flows of network data that represent approximately 9 petabytes of data per day.
  • AT&T sees 80 billion potential vulnerability probes across our global IP network every day.


The AT&T network helps protect connections through AT&T Virtual Private Network, Private Access Point Name, Private SMS User Groups, private home Wi-Fi networks and device automation.


For more information, visit our Network Security issue brief.

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, form relationships with our suppliers and  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 55% of our network functionality to SDN and are on our way to a goal of 75% by 2020. Millions of wireless customers are already using our virtualized and software-controlled network.
    • 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 application programming interfaces (APIs). This opens up our new ecosystem to non-traditional network players such as smaller software companies, open-source alternatives and universities.
  • Network Function Virtualization (NFV) replaces specialized network equipment with software-based services. This service gives customers the freedom to add or modify network functions as easily as downloading apps on a smartphone. It’s the virtual edge of our network because we eliminate the need for customers to install physical network appliances in their premises—such as firewalls, routers or application accelerators—and replace them with a service that supports all of these functions in our cloud. This reduces total cost of ownership and increases flexibility. Our best-in-class portfolio allows solution providers to offer solutions that are agile and meets customer needs in a highly dynamic marketplace.


Our software-defined Network on Demand platform helps businesses move faster, gaining a competitive advantage. The platform gives customers a secure, on-demand foundation to adapt and grow with their business needs. AT&T Network on Demand solutions launched in 2015 and are now being used at more than 8,000 sites in more than 170 U.S. cities.


  • AT&T Switched Ethernet ServiceSM is a self-service networking solution that lets businesses quickly order more ports, add or change services, or scale bandwidth.
  • AT&T Dedicated Internet Service is a high-speed, dedicated symmetrical internet connection with reliability backed by industry-leading Service Level Agreements, 24/7/365 technical support and proactive monitoring to assure continuous end-to-end availability.
  • AT&T FlexWare is available in more than 200 countries and territories (subject to conditions), allowing businesses to easily and flexibly manage their networks. Since launching in 2016, we’ve entered into contracts to provide more than 7,000 FlexWare devices globally across a wide variety of businesses, both large and small.


We are also innovating around connecting people everywhere they live, work and play.


  • Project AirGig is a transformative technology from AT&T Labs that could one day deliver internet speeds well over 1 gigabit per second via millimeter wave (mmWave) signals guided by power lines. We hope that one day there will be reduced need to build new towers or bury new cables in locations close to existing aerial power lines. Instead, using patented AirGig technology, we would install devices to provide high-speed broadband that can simply be clamped onto existing cables by trained electrical workers.
    • AT&T recently launched an international trial of Project AirGig technology and has also just launched a 2nd trial in the U.S. in Georgia.


There’s much to do before our vision is realized, but we’re building this network of the future to address customer needs and 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.
  • Placing antennae where they make the most impact 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.
  • Connecting individual cell sites to the main AT&T network with high-speed, reliable fiber cables (Ethernet backhaul), which provide fast connections. More than 99% of our mobile data traffic moves between cell towers at ultra-high speeds over enhanced backhaul across our wireline network.


AT&T Evolution to 5Gs

AT&T is leading the evolution to 5G mobile network technology. We’re always evolving our network and looking forward to what’s next. We are currently the 1st and only U.S. carrier to announce plans to introduce standards-based mobile 5G services to customers by the end of 2018.

With a software-defined network (SDN), 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 well positioned to support next-generation applications quickly and efficiently. Our leadership in SDN gives us a 5G advantage. Cost savings are one of the critical attributes of network function virtualization (NFV) and SDN. This network approach delivers a sizeable cost advantage in the deployment of 5G technology over the traditional network approach.

We currently are trialing and testing fixed-wireless 5G, including a live trial with business customers in Austin, Texas, and 5G field trials with residential and business customers in Waco, Texas; South Bend, Ind.; and Kalamazoo, Mich. The trials and lab work we’re conducting are helping guide our 5G 3GPP standards contributions, our commercial 5G launches this year, and our future 5G network build.

Disaster Response

As an information, technology and communications company, we have a unique role to play in disaster preparedness and response. Before a disaster strikes, AT&T takes steps to prepare network infrastructure. In the event a disaster strikes, our company and our employees assist victims and affected communities through business continuity planning, network preparedness, disaster response, corporate giving, employee support and volunteerism. To learn more, please see our Disaster Response issue brief.

1Actual customer speeds may vary. Download speeds are typically up to 940 Mbps due to overhead capacity reserved to deliver the data. 

2Based on the number of Fiber-to-the-Home households using publicly available data for the top fiber providers in the AT&T footprint.

Updated on: Nov 20, 2018