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Ask DSLReports: U-Verse in BellSouth Territory?
Wes Warnock, AT&T's lead U-Verse rep
by Karl Bode 03:01PM Friday Sep 14 2007
We asked you last Friday to give us your most nagging questions, and we'd try our best to get you an answer. One of the top questions was whether AT&T has any plans to deploy U-Verse service into former BellSouth territory within a year or two, so we sat down with AT&T's U-Verse spokesman Wes Warnock to pick his brain.

AT&T's U-Verse IPTV & VDSL service just passed the 100,000 user mark. The service, which offers 6Mbps VDSL and HD IPTV, is now available in limited portions of 25 metro markets. However, all of them so far have been in AT&T's original thirteen-state footprint -- leaving BellSouth customers feeling a little neglected.

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"We are absolutely planning our deployment in the Southeast," Warnock tells us. "We'll be entering the Atlanta market by the end of this year."

"Right now, what we're doing is building up our network and putting in our video delivery infrastructure, getting the reprogramming agreements with local broadcasters, and putting all our installation and marketing plans in place."

As it stands now, a leaked internal launch memo we've been tracking has St. Louis scheduled for November 5, Austin scheduled for November 9 and Columbus scheduled for December 24. Atlanta should be launched somewhere in between there, though AT&T wouldn't be specific. Warnock says that the company will be deploying to additional Southeast markets in "pretty short order."

It's apparent that despite the merger, BellSouth is still somewhat of an independent animal. The company just launched a new suite of DSL bundles not available in AT&T territory, and DSL pricing and tier names remain inconsistent across AT&T and BellSouth territories. BellSouth is also now offering dry loop DSL for all tiers across their footprint, while AT&T's dry loop offerings remain scattershot.

"We are working through the discrepancies between the offers and plans across our regions," says AT&T spokesperson Tiffany Nell. "We can't really speculate as to when these prices will come in line, it's a process," she tells us.

As for U-Verse, the company still says that they should pass eight million households by the end of this year and 18 million homes by the end of 2008. But Warnock tells us those numbers don't include BellSouth territory. Updated numbers that include BellSouth's footprint should be coming your way in December, we're told. It's pretty clear that the real fusion of AT&T and BellSouth happens in 2008.

The Need For Speed


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We, of course, had to ask Warnock about all the skepticism surrounding U-Verse's ability to provide "future proof" bandwidth, particularly in the shadow of significantly faster Verizon FiOS and eventually DOCSIS 3.0 technology. The company is currently offering only 6Mbps of useable non-video bandwidth, though their solution is capable of significantly more.

"Frankly we are ahead of where we thought we would be with the fiber to the node architecture," Wes insists. "We're seeing a lot faster speeds. When we talk about the 25Mbps, we are talking about the bare minimum that we're seeing right now. Beyond that as you get shorter loop lengths we're seeing faster speeds and we're really pleased with that."

We've seen reports of U-Verse gateways syncing at nearly 100Mbps, though we're talking about only 1,400 feet from the DSLAM. It seems that 25Mbps is working well at distances of 3,000 feet; distances higher than 5,000 feet are where the trouble starts. Faster speeds are coming, but the company still isn't being specific. During a recent investor webcast, the company only stated that additional bandwidth would be doled out sometime in 2008.

"We've got pair bonding capabilities that are really going to allow us to increase bandwidth as needed, so as that happens, and compression technologies improve across the board you'll see new services and new offerings," says Warnock.

More Fiber In Your Diet


AT&T's decision to deploy VDSL and FTTN instead of FTTH was done mostly to keep impatient investors happy and keep costs low. The telco will be spending less than a third of Verizon's FiOS budget on initial deployments. Some developments will get fiber to the home, however, so we asked Warnock to break down the numbers.

"Of the eighteen million homes that we've announced to pass by the end of next year, approximately a million of those are fiber to the prem," he clarifies. "The rest would be fiber to the node." Despite the added capacity, those customers will see the same speeds their VDSL brethren see, as the company wants to create "a consistent user experience across the board," according to Warnock.

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VDSL or fiber, AT&T believes they're more than capable of doing battle on the TV front. "We're contantly developing new features that take advantage of our all IP-based platform," Warnock says. As we've noted repeatedly, AT&T's ability to deliver dual high-def streams to customers will be a real U-Verse litmus test.

"We are the nations largest 100% IPTV provider. We have a pretty good track record so far and we're just going to build on that," he says.

Party Poopers


There was so much skepticism that U-Verse was a pipe dream, and again, we've proven that wrong...
-Wes Warnock, AT&T
"DSLReports and plenty of other outlets have been highly skeptical of our strategy," Warnock admits. Said skepticism has focused on the belief that fiber is the future, and Verizon is putting itself on a much more solid long-term competitive path by deploying FTTH now. Warnock insists that U-Verse's growth rate is justifying the company's decision.

"Last year we ended the year with three thousand subscribers," he says. "In pretty short order that grew to ten thousand -- and then fifty thousand at the end of the second quarter. In just around two months that fifty thousand is now a hundred thousand. We see that as pretty strong validation of what we're doing."

He also points out that two years ago the skepticism was focused on whether AT&T could even do high definition TV, or whether IPTV would work over their network at all. "There was so much skepticism that U-Verse was a pipe dream, and again, we've proven that wrong and I feel like we're continuing to execute on our strategy and perform well in the marketplace."


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