AT&T building out 4G LTE network, laying foundation for 5G in P.R.
Wireless carrier AT&T has invested more than $275 million in our Puerto Rico wireless and wired networks during 2015-2017, in preparation to roll out next-generation 5G services after the devastation left by last year’s hurricanes.
The investments boost reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for residents and businesses. They also improve critical services that support public safety and first responders, said José Juan Dávila, general manager of AT&T Puerto Rico.
“We all know that recovery efforts after the hurricanes were strenuous. The island was devastated by a Category 5 hurricane, and it took many months and more than 1,000 people to restore the network,” Dávila said.
“There were employees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. [mainland] working together through April and then the local team continued the job,” he said.
When Hurricanes Irma and María hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last September, AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery Team headed down to help. Together with Hurricane Harvey, AT&T reported recovery costs of some $600 million in total, including service credits. A significant, yet unspecified, portion of the total was related to Puerto Rico, AT&T officials confirmed.
“It’s important for us to keep our customers connected during hurricane and storms season. We’re committed to that and since María, we’ve improved the resiliency of the network and have moved a large portion of our fiber underground. That’s extremely expensive, but makes the network more secure,” he said.
AT&T will bury the infrastructure associated with its core network — the connections from the main switch to end offices throughout the island, making recovery faster and easier, he said. The project has been completed, he said.
The carrier also increased the number of power generators at its cell sites and has moved back-up equipment to the island — including Cell on Wheels (COWs), Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs) and satellite-enabled devices. Earlier this month, AT&T also introduced a new mobile unit — the first of its kind on the island — that can provide service, sell equipment and offer charging capacity to AT&T customers in case of emergencies.
Despite storms, AT&T completed upgrades
Despite the year-end storms AT&T made more than 560 wireless network upgrades in Puerto Rico in 2017, including expanded broadband capacity and the addition of new channels to add network speed and be able to address consumer demand.
The carrier added a new cell site, said Dávila, noting “we only built one because because we already cover 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s population with LTE. Now were looking for capacity and speed.”
AT&T also completed 11 in-building coverage projects in hospitals, hotels and shopping centers — to name some — to increase capacity and coverage in many of those hard-to-reach facilities.
So far in 2018, AT&T has completed 90 network capacity upgrades in 30 towns and two in-building projects, Dávila said.
In April, AT&T announced the availability of the 5G Evolution technology in the areas of San Juan, Caguas, Adjuntas, Aguadilla and Culebra. That next-generation technology can deliver speeds of up to 400 megabits per second, and is the “step that will move us to 5G, when we will be able to reach theoretical speeds of 1,000 Mbps.”
There is no specific timeline for deploying 5G yet, but Puerto Rico will be on par with the other stateside markets where the technology is made available, he added.
Emergency preparedness and FirstNet
This month, AT&T began deploying the network that will be dedicated to first responders and emergency systems on the island. Through the FirstNet public-private partnership formed a little over a year ago, emergency personnel will always have pre-emption and first priority to communications services.
FirstNet is a new nationwide communications platform dedicated to the public safety community in the 50 states and U.S. territories. AT&T is working to develop the network on a 700 Mhz frequency allocated by the federal government, Dávila said.
Puerto Rico opted into the program in August 2017, and emergency management agencies are now signing the contracts to participate in the FirstNet initiative, he said. Participating entities will receive AT&T-activated units that will work on that dedicated network.