Technology Blog

AT&T Labs harnesses new 25GS-PON technology to pave the way for commercial availability of 20 Gig speeds and beyond 

Today, the internet powers nearly every facet of human and machine interaction. From augmented reality and virtual reality applications and cloud gaming; to connected cars and smart cities; to the video conferencing tools that connected us all through the pandemic – those increasingly sophisticated apps and services require connectivity that advances just as quickly. 

We are laser-focused on making AT&T the best broadband provider in America, pushing the envelope of faster speeds, greater capacity, lower latency, and increased reliability and reach. While we’ve racked up plenty of accolades over the last few years for both our fiber internet product and our fiber-powered 5G wireless network, no one is resting on their laurels. We’re all about building for what’s next. We are the Fastest Major Internet provider offering Hyper-Gig, symmetric speeds of up to 5 Gbps to consumers and businesses1. Earlier this year, we announced that we have achieved up to 10 Gbps broadband in our Labs. Now, AT&T has reached 20 Gbps symmetric speeds in our production network, the first operator in the world to achieve this milestone. 

Why are symmetric speeds so important? Consumers and businesses are increasingly both content consumers and creators. We are uploading and sending videos and other massive files. For example, if you’re an online gamer, you are exchanging tons of data with other players in real-time, perhaps teaming up with your friends in VR or livestreaming your exploits to millions of fans. For businesses, sharing video and VR streams across the network enables near-real-time data analytics, metaverse communities, increased worker safety, robotic manufacturing, and more. The internet isn’t just a two-way street. It’s a two-way mega highway.

Journey to Hyper-gig

AT&T began deploying fiber to homes and businesses around 2010. Built on Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON) technology, that initial service gave customers shared capacity of 2.5 Gbps downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream. Being “passive” minimizes the need for active electronics in our outside plant facilities, which means lower maintenance costs and much higher reliability than legacy copper twisted pair or coaxial cabling. AT&T used GPON technology to become one of the first companies to offer symmetrical 1 Gbps internet service to businesses and consumers, in the form of our AT&T Fiber service. Whether it was customers sharing videos with friends or helping small and medium businesses connect franchises or branch offices across regions, this service was a huge stride forward in making uploads as seamless as downloads.

Ten years later, in 2020, AT&T began testing and deploying new XGS-PON technology in line with our plan to hit 30 million households and businesses connected with fiber by 2025.  With XGS-PON, we increased our network fiber capacity by 4x in the downstream and 8x in the upstream at roughly the same economics as our prior GPON investment. AT&T was an early adopter of XGS-PON with the largest deployment in North America. We had our first trial in North Carolina in late 2021, with a wider, Hyper-Gig speeds customer launch in 2022 featuring industry-leading 2Gbps and 5Gbps symmetrical broadband services.

Evolving technology for more speed, capacity, and efficiency

AT&T Labs began evaluating next-gen 25GS-PON technology in our production network in June 2022. This expands our broadband network’s capacity by almost 2.5x compared to XGS-PON while requiring minimal infrastructure upgrades in our central offices and customer locations. And it runs over the same fiber optic cables we’ve spent the last decade-plus installing nationwide. In our trial, we were able to take advantage of wavelength coexistence with our FiberWise™ technology – combining 25GS-PON with XGS-PON and other point-to-point services over the same fiber to offer an efficient evolutionary path. This technology is what enabled us to reach 10 Gigs earlier this year and 20 Gigs today in our Broadband Lab in Austin, TX.

Symmetrical 20 gig capability gives developers and engineers a huge runway to the future. As concurrent and mass use of AR/VR, the metaverse, autonomous cars, telemedicine, robotic manufacturing, real-time video sharing and editing, and gaming continue to grow, our 20 Gbps service will provide plenty of bandwidth – that includes helping make possible connected apps and services that haven’t even been imagined yet.  

Future of ultra-fast broadband  

The 25GSPON MSA group – consisting of more than 50 global operators and suppliers, including AT&T – is the industry group driving the standards and specifications of this new tech. We expect the group to bring 25GS-PON to maturity in the next 6 to 12 months. Looking beyond the 25GS technology, we are also actively engaged and driving 50 Gbps and 100 Gbps symmetrical access technologies with global standards bodies. As we invest and build towards our goal of becoming America’s best broadband provider, we’ll keep working on what comes next while helping drive the broadband evolution even further into the future.