Both AT&T and Verizon released Q1 earnings this week, and even though both reported financial success, the earnings calls highlighted a difference between the two telecom giants in consideration of their 5G rollouts.
During its call, AT&T announced net income totaling $7.5 billion, or $1.04 per share, an increase of $4.6 billion overall and $.63 per share over 2020 figures. Earnings per share were posted at $0.86, beating analyst expectations of $0.78. For its part, Verizon posted a year-over-year net income increase of 25.4 percent, landing $5.4 billion in net income and showing earnings of $1.31 per share, just slightly beating analyst expectations of $1.29.
While both companies did well despite challenges brought about by the pandemic, during the earnings calls Verizon referred to its 5G deployment and aspirations no fewer than 36 times. In contrast, AT&T mentioned the technology once.
That’s not to say AT&T isn’t invested in expanding its 5G reach, though — it’s going to be a must for all major telecom players going forward, as the company is well aware. In fact, AT&T spent $23.4 billion at a wireless spectrum auction earlier this year to get its hands on a chunk of the highly valued C-band spectrum. But that investment was nearly doubled by Verizon, which plopped down $45.5 billion to get its piece of the radio spectrum pie, and may be why Big Red spent so much time talking about it.
C-band ownership is going to play a big role in 5G rollout for all operators — especially in the middle of the range. Mid-range deployment offers the ideal mix of the long reach found at the lower end of the C-band spectrum and the super-fast speed found at the high end, also known as millimeter-wave. At the moment, both AT&T’s and Verizon’s “nationwide 5G” networks are running at the low end of the spectrum and really don’t offer much of a difference over 4G LTE service. However, as they build out their 5G infrastructure, the mid-band frequencies will allow the service to truly flourish. Millimeter-wave networks need to have line-of-sight access between receivers in order to function, so building the network infrastructure itself takes time and costs big.
Currently, Verizon is using a mix of strategies to get 5G into the word. It announced this week that by the end of the month, its millimeter-wave 5G networks, which it calls “Ultra Wideband,” will be fully deployed in 71 cities across the country. It also said that its 5G Home Internet service, which operates in the millimeter-wave spectrum, will be deployed in 33 cities by early May. Beyond that, the company is working with corporate clients to deploy 5G tech, such as its partnership with Cooler Screens, who is using the tech to power interactive panels that replace the traditional glass doors on coolers at Walgreens.
AT&T is also employing a multi-prong strategy to deploy its 5G network. The company offers its millimeter-wave service, which it calls 5G+, in 38 cities across the country. It has also announced that it will be building on its use of 5G in sports stadiums. First revealed at AT&T Stadium in 2019, the company uses the tech to enable AR and other in-stadium enhancements to allow fans to do things such as overlaying a player’s stats on a phone aimed at the field. AT&T says it will deploy its 5G+ service in 17 additional stadiums by the end of the year, bringing to 40 the number of venues using the tech.
What About T-Mobile?
T-Mobile won’t be releasing its Q1 earnings until next month, but it is likely that the company will place as much of an emphasis on 5G as Verizon did in its earning call. Thanks to its purchase of Sprint last year, the company already had a significant slice of the mid-band pie, which it added to with a $9.3 billion spend at the spectrum auction. This earned it the title of the telecom giant with the largest 5G network in the country in a report by RootMetrics.
That same report said that AT&T had the fastest network though, and that it also tied with Verizon in terms of reliability so the in consumer-favorite competition, it really still is anyone’s game.
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