AT&T says up is the new down

24 August 2014 by Steve Blum

The best kind goes both ways.

Call it GigaPower or GigaWeasel, AT&T is at least acknowledging that its much-hyped but little seen upgrade program needs to meet rising customer expectations for broadband speeds. And interestingly, according to a story by Sue Marek in Fierce Telecom, the company is also embracing the idea that upstream speeds are rapidly becoming at least as important to subscribers as downstream speeds…

AT&T Group President and Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey said that upstream traffic is growing at double the rate of downstream traffic thanks to so many users uploading photos and video content via social networking sites. Specifically, Stankey added that upstream traffic surges at venues such as concerts and sporting events.

GigaPower’s symmetrical capability, Stankey said, will be a differentiator against competitive services such as cable because DOCSIS 3.0 isn’t able to deliver a robust upstream due to difficulty with node splitting.

The catch, of course, is that AT&T isn’t anywhere near delivering gigabit speeds on its copper network, and likely never will. It’s managing to push, it says, 300 Mbps through some of its more modern plant, although the actual number of homes served that way is something of a mystery – a few, select neighborhoods in Austin, for example.

Years down the road, as fiber begins to reach more homes – new single single family home developments and fiber-to-the-basement deployments to multiple dwelling units in dense, lucrative urban markets – AT&T might be able to begin to make good on today’s GigaPower marketing promises for a lucky few.

But whether or not it’s backed up by reality, the fact that AT&T is moving the conversation toward the idea that high speed service needs to be symmetrical is a radical step forward. Particularly for a company that makes a habit of milking faster download speeds – 12 Mbps and above – out of crumbling copper networks by squeezing upload capacity to 768 Kbps or less.