When we made our New Years' resolutions last January, it's probably safe to assume for most of us that a global pandemic didn't play into the equation. The world looks a lot different today than it did just 11 months ago. And now, as this historic year draws to a close, we're able to look back with a bit more clarity on all the things COVID-19 has changed - and the things that have remained the same.
No year has signaled the importance of connectivity like 2020 – whether you’re an employee working from home, a first responder making life-saving calls, a student learning virtually, a teacher managing a classroom online or a healthcare worker providing 24x7 care, the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the importance of connection.
And thanks to decades of investing in our network and supply chain - and understanding the needs of our customers - AT&T's network provided the stability and strength that customers have come to expect. In fact, AT&T Fiber into the home has gained considerable year-over-year strength. Download data usage is up 26% and upload data usage is up 62% in comparing November 2019 and November 2020. In a year like none other for people to depend on their broadband connection, we delivered. Over and over, customers are telling us with their actions that our lightning fast fiber network is superior to what they've seen in the past. And we're just getting started.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a new network on the block in 2020! We now have the largest wireless (On-Net) network in the U.S. - covering 2.7 million square miles, beating those other guys in coverage.
Here are just a few ways we’ve delivered on our promise to keep you connected at a time (and in a year) when it matters most.
Connection matters…when the world goes 5G
Our network team thought outside the box to make sure our 5G build plan was able to continue, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Their innovative, 24-hour work cycle included colleagues from around the globe and combined that with the pioneering use of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to help us reach nationwide 5G coverage this summer. And while some of our competitors like to drone on and disparage DSS, guess who has the fastest 5G Nationwide network1…AT&T DOES!!!
But our build doesn’t end there! While our teams continue to densify our 5G footprint, they’re also deploying 5G+ (our super-fast 5G mmWave signal ideal for high-traffic locations like stadiums, entertainment districts, airports and school campuses) in more cities across the country. Just this week, we’ve announced Chicago as our 37th 5G+ city – and we have more coming soon!
Connection matters…as we put 5G in our customers’ hands
This year, as we reached nationwide 5G coverage, we focused on making it easier for our customers to tap into the power of AT&T 5G by offering new 5G smartphones, uncomplicated wireless plans and demonstrating the exciting possibilities of 5G. We started with a commitment to offer 15 5G-capable devices this year and exceeded that goal with a total of 24 postpaid 5G devices and 7 5G prepaid devices from Cricket Wireless. In addition, we added 5G access to all our current postpaid unlimited plans and AT&T PREPAID, which means customers with compatible devices can get access to both our nationwide AT&T 5G network and AT&T 5G+ at no extra charge. And despite the separation that 2020 brought upon us, we continued to build out new virtual experiences to bring 5G to life in innovative ways, such as holographic interviews from inside the NBA Playoffs bubble or the Rooster Teeth and Looney Tunes activations from our Discovery District store in Downtown Dallas.
Connection matters…when first responders get a call
We’re at the ready to help ensure those on the front line have the reliable, around-the-clock connectivity they need to coordinate and communicate their emergency response. FirstNet, America’s public safety network, is there for our first responders and the communities they serve no matter where their mission takes them. Agencies across the public safety community – EMS, fire, law enforcement, healthcare and more – made 700+ requests for deployable network assets this year to support COVID-19 response in addition to major disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. And yes, this even includes drones and a blimp if necessary. The pandemic has made 2020 the ultimate stress-test for FirstNet. But thanks to unique benefits like dedicated connectivity when needed, always-on priority and preemption and high-quality Band 14 spectrum rolled out nationwide, FirstNet is hitting the mark. So much so that in multiple disasters this year, when our competitors’ networks were down, they asked US if their customers could roam on OURS.
It’s clearer than ever before how critical it is for first responders to have the tools and infrastructure they need to do their jobs effectively. And because emergencies don’t know zip codes that means reaching rural and remote areas of the country. We’re continuing ongoing collaboration with rural network providers across the country to help build out additional LTE coverage and extend FirstNet’s reach.
And our support goes beyond connectivity. That’s why we’re delivering on our commitment to first responders by supporting stronger public safety and community relationships. Engagements like these help foster ongoing, authentic and mutual trust in the men and women our communities are counting on most while helping us create connections for all.
Connection matters…when our kids are in school (also from home)
When schools across the country abruptly closed at the start of the pandemic, teachers, parents and students had to quickly adjust on-the-fly to create virtual classrooms from home. Understanding our critical role in connected learning for both teachers and students, we took immediate action with new discounts and offers to help school districts respond. Since March we have connected more than 460,000 students and teachers across 44 states with agile mobile connectivity - and that's just the beginning. We remain actively engaged with local leaders, K-12 school districts, and colleges and universities as we continue to expand access.
In addition to timely offers, such as discounted wireless data plans with free Wi-Fi hotspots in 2020, we also created the Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund. This new $10 million connected learning commitment supports the most vulnerable parents, teachers and students with programs, tools and resources for education through a partnership with Connected Nation.
While the homework gap has existed for decades, the pandemic has brought national awareness to the problem with nearly 17 million children unable to access virtual classes because they lack internet connectivity or devices. This disproportionately impacts students of color, as well as students with disabilities and students in rural and under-resourced neighborhoods. While there is much work ahead for all of us next year and beyond, we believe working together on the progress already made in 2020 moves us closer to closing both the homework gap and addressing the digital divide. We believe that eLearning is not a temporary fix – it is an investment in the future of education.
Connection matters…for enterprises large and small (and their customers)
We're talking about any kind of connection, and any combination of connectivity types. Like Fiber, private networks on their business sites, or (you guessed it) 5G. It was all crucial to keeping business up and running this year.
We took a business-first approach to rolling out 5G services – and even in 2020, businesses responded enthusiastically. Not just with 5G, but with related technologies like edge computing. The ecosystem is starting to take shape, and we’re delivering real results. We’re putting the power of cloud computing closer to our customers – whether that means on our customer’s premises, or in our network centers across the country.
And we’re deploying these tools across nearly every industry. Just a few examples: We’re setting up private networks building a foundation for 5G in the oil and gas industry. Upgrading how fans interact with their favorite sports teams. Bringing network services to U.S. military bases. And of course we’re thinking about how technology can help build the future of remote working.
All of these tools can create endless possibilities for innovation and new business and customer experiences.
Connection matters…on the go
And at a time when we’re not “going” many places, but are still on-the-go, we’re bringing a robust selection of premium content across news, sports and family entertainment through WarnerMedia’s WarnerMedia RIDE™ app to 28 vehicle brands in the US. Owners can keep connected just about anywhere through in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspots, while our world-class content from WarnerMedia will provide news and entertainment on-the-go for the whole family. Owners of select models can sign up at att.com/connected car.
Connection matters…in the eye of the storm
From an active tornado season, to a record number of hurricanes and a string of destructive wildfires – 2020 was a record year for natural disasters. And no matter how many times they were called upon to respond, our Network Disaster Recovery team did not miss a beat. With new COVID-19 protocols in place, our teams of disaster response superheroes mobilized within hours – every time – to restore services to our customers. In some cases, the conditions warranted them to stay deployed for several days, even weeks. They did it to make sure our customers and first responders could communicate clearly – when communication mattered most.
Connection matters…when security is more important than ever before
As we continue to build out our 5G network, we will ultimately offer our customers new cybersecurity features that go far beyond what’s possible with 4G, like:
- More privacy for your identity. With future 5G, for the first time, your connection will rely completely on an encrypted identity. Your permanent ID won’t be exposed. This makes it harder for scammers to intercept your calls or pinpoint your location.
- Stronger encryption over the air. When your voice and data travels from your device to a cell tower, it stays confidential because it’s scrambled by an algorithm. With 5G, the protection will be getting even stronger, as we move to stronger form of 128-bit encryption. And within a few years, 256-bit encryption should be the norm. This will help keep one step ahead of bad guys with big computers. It’s just not practical for them to reassemble your call or message.
- Smarter software running the network. 5G will increasingly rely on flexible software from an open community of experts, not on specialized hardware from a single company. Your call or data will be routed through “virtualized” network nodes – switches and hubs that can be moved instantly from one physical computer to another if there’s a problem. This reduces reliance on any one equipment supplier or country and ensures that holes are patched quicker.
Connection matters. And with 2020 nearly behind us, we’re now able to look ahead to more exciting – and more connected – times to come!
1 Fastest Nationwide 5G network based on AT&T analysis of Ookla Speedtest Intelligence data median 5G download speeds for Q3 2020 comparing only networks offering 'nationwide' 5G coverage. 5G Coverage analysis based on carrier's public statements. Ookla trademarks used under license and reprinted with permission. AT&T 5G requires compatible device and plan. Coverage not available everywhere. Visit att.com/5Gforyou to learn more.