AT&T shrugged off the current lack of 5G standards by ramping up its marketing machine, adding the “5G Evolution” tag to its latest set of network upgrades, while also talking up its ability to compete in a new era of unlimited tariffs in the US.

The company said it planned to launch so-called 5G Evolution networks in 20 major cities by the end of this year, which will rely heavily on LTE to give consumers a taste of what the next-generation technology will eventually deliver.

Indeed, AT&T said the evolution networks will “lay the foundation” for 5G. Standards body 3GPP aims to finalise initial standards by March 2018 using LTE as a base.

Speaking during the company’s Q1 earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (pictured above) said the company was well prepared for 5G network evolution and changing consumer habits due to its spectrum resources.

Those resources are already paying off for AT&T in terms of enabling it to meet consumer demand amid a return of unlimited tariffs in the US.

“A year from now I think we’re going to look back on a return to unlimited plans as the moment the battle for network reach and capacity really began and we’re prepared for the fight and ready to go,” he said.

“What the return of unlimited really highlights is the industry’s position in terms of capacity. If the industry is going to stay with unlimited we’re prepared and can probably sustain it better than anyone else because our spectrum position is the best in the industry.”

T-Mobile US kicked-off the return to unlimited tariffs in August 2016, followed swiftly by the country’s other operators over the last six months. Currently, the four leading operators all offer unlimited tariffs.

Boosting spectrum
During Q1, AT&T continued to bolster its spectrum holding to prepare for a boom in mobile video and the launch of 5G services.

The company gained 20MHz of spectrum as part of a deal to run the US’ FirstNet public safety network. Under the contract, it is free to use any spare capacity for its own customers.

In January, the company acquired spectrum holder FiberTower and is currently embroiled in a potential bidding war for 5G spectrum holder Straight Path.

Device sales decline
AT&T’s net profit fell from $3.8 billion in Q1 2016 to $3.5 billion in the recent quarter as consolidated revenue declined from $40.5 billion in Q1 2016 to $39.4 billion. The company attributed this decline to a fall in wireless equipment sales and an increase in customers using SIM-only plans.

Revenue from its consumer wireless segment, which doesn’t include business connections, declined 7.1 per cent year-on-year to $7.7 billion. During the quarter it lost 353,000 subscribers, mostly contract customers and those signed-up through reseller channels, leaving it with 51.9 million subscribers at end-March.

AT&T’s wireless base as a whole – including business users – grew by 2.1 million to 134.2 million subscribers in the US by end-March.

In Mexico, wireless subscriber numbers grew 36.8 per cent year-on-year to 12.6 million by end Q1.