Amid telecom moves, AT&T keeps up network improvements


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National wireless provider AT&T is continuing its Alaska operations at a steady pace despite a shifting telecommunications landscape in the state.

The company does not release its subscribers by area, and could not provide its number of wireless customers in Alaska, but AT&T Alaska Director Of Sales Scott Meyers confirmed it is the largest provider in the state.

Alaska-based telecoms General Communications Inc. and Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. generally estimate AT&T Alaska has about 250,000 or more wireless customers. Combined, GCI and ACS have about 260,000 wireless customers.

“More Alaskans chose AT&T than any other carrier,” Meyers said.

That, plus the company’s 4G LTE network means the company is “well positioned” to weather changes in the Alaska wireless market, he said.

Verizon Wireless entered the Alaska market last month, and the state’s other major providers GCI and Alaska Communications are looking for federal approval of an infrastructure merger. The Alaska companies have cited the merger, which would create the Alaska Wireless Network, or AWN, as their way of competing with the national players.

LTE stands for long term evolution and such networks connected with fiber optic cables between towers are about 10 times faster than HSPA+, which has top download speeds of 20 megabytes per second, or mb/s.

HSPA+, or high-speed packet access plus, is the regular 4G network AT&T and others operate in some areas that don’t have 4G LTE.

Meyers said the company would leverage its robust infrastructure and continue to meet customer demands in the state. The company will not provide the details of any future investment plans, but Meyers said announcements about the Alaska network are expected in the coming weeks and months.

A July 9 news release said that an announcement about the company’s wireless network was scheduled for July 16.

This month, the company is also opening an additional retail store in South Anchorage at Lake Otis and Abbott Road.

From 2010-12, AT&T invested $650 million in its wireless and wireline networks in the state, Meyers said.

That money was used for more than 250 upgrades, including building new cell sites, and upgrading existing sites to meet 4G and 4G LTE speeds. The work also added capacity to the AT&T network, Meyers said.

The upgrades directly contributed to the company’s 4G LTE launch in Juneau and Anchorage in 2012, and have also allowed for the expansion of the network there, Meyers said. The work also enabled AT&T to launch HSPA+ service on the Kenai Peninsula and in Homer in 2012.

Other recent work has expanded and enhanced Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area service, widening the footprint and providing more complete 4G LTE coverage.

Most recently, the company deployed a cellsite on wheels at Stuart Creek, outside of Fairbanks, according to AT&T Spokesman Andy Colley.

The cellsite is meant to help firefighters, land managers and law enforcement communicate while fighting the fire in the area.

Normally, the area doesn’t have cell service, Colley wrote in an email.

For the first quarter of 2013, AT&T’s work in Alaska was done by 522 employees in the state, as well as some contractors.

Those positions include work at retail stores, engineering and network positions, and administrative jobs that oversee the company’s Alaska presence, Meyers said.

In 2012, the company’s Alaska payroll was $42 million. That’s in addition to the network investments the company made that year.

Meyers said the company also spends quite a bit of money in the state on goods and services. In 2012, that figure totaled $31.7 million, which went to purchases from Alaska vendors, hiring local contractors, outfitting retail stores, transporting equipment and other needs in the state.

Other in-state spending includes roaming agreements with several carriers. Meyers noted that other carriers provide coverage in many rural locations, such as Barrow and Galena.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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