Telecom Timeout

May 18 2011   10:14PM GMT

AT&T to manage chaos on the horizon – if conditions are right

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson was selling managed chaos theory in Dallas Wednesday in his keynote speech at the TIA’s “Inside the Network” conference. His kind of chaos theory has nothing to do with applied mathematics, unless it’s projecting wireless data growth in the next five years. And the numbers are big.

His message was that service providers won’t have time for traditional long-term planning and carefully controlled rollouts in the brave new world. So he advocated for the role of managed chaos provider. To back up the predictions, Stephenson cited 8,000% wireless growth since 2007 when the iPhone hit AT&T’s network. His conservative estimate of data traffic growth by 2015 is eight to 10 times what it is now.

To get to managed chaos, Stephenson linked a chain reaction of LTE network deployment to high-def video to tablet adoption to the cloud to cloud storage and finally to new services delivered to anyone just about anywhere. What’s coming at the industry in the next five years will be a different phenomenon than it has ever seen before, Stephenson said. “The next five years are not going to be planned and deliberate. The next five years will be characterized by chaos.”

So when it comes to handling this growth and the need for innovation, Stephenson’s message to the vendor and service provider audience was that he needs more spectrum now, and he needs a tax policy that offers the right incentives for investment in the AT&T and hopefully in the T-Mobile wireless networks, and oh, he needs an AT&T-friendly regulatory environment too.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He was among friends asking the equipment vendors for help, because if the chaos gets too chaotic, the whole telecom ecosystem will fail together – or something to that effect. And besides, many of those equipment vendors are extremely effective lobbyists when it comes to a having a Washington agenda. This is a time for friends.

Stephenson is pleased that Obama administration (along with the FCC) has identified more wireless broadband spectrum to be released in the future, but indicated that it would be much better if the future were now. With more spectrum, AT&T could better encourage innovation and work with developers who will come up with those unplanned services we can’t imagine yet.

AT&T has already pledged to invest billions in its broadband networks, but Stephenson is willing to throw another $8 billion into LTE networks if it acquires T-Mobile’s spectrum and licenses. It’s a simple request, really. All he needs is a little cooperation.

And so Stephenson laid his wireless “city on a hill” message at the telecom industry’s feet. “I think time will show that when we have large amounts of spectrum and an environment conducive to investment, every facet of the ecosystem will drive the demand for bandwidth in a 10 to 15-year cycle of investment. That’s what we’re in for if we get this environment right.”

We’re all in it together, right?

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