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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
March 5, 2024

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AT&T CEO John Stankey talks 5G, artificial intelligence and the future of technology


Technology’s ever-evolving future isn’t always crystal clear, as it morphs and adapts to how things and people change.

For John Stankey, leader of Dallas-based telecommunications company AT&T, there are many ways to measure that evolution. And just as the advent of the internet in 1983 eventually changed everything from shopping to mobility, he thinks artificial intelligence holds similar promise.

“I think we’re gonna see the same dynamic working with AI and how it impacts our lives, our work lives, what we get done, how we educate and how we take medicine,” he told attendees Monday at the National Association for Business Economics’ annual meeting in Dallas.

Stankey said he fully understands the love-hate arguments surrounding AI and, while he doesn’t side with either viewpoints, he knows AI will be a big deal.

It was one of a handful of topics that he touched on.

Today, Stankey said, the world is in a “perpetual state of learning” forcing people to be disciplined in how they see the world. He said people used to have a strict number of “changes” in life, but that has since evolved and a lot of that has to do with technology.

The U.S. has made significant investments into wireless networks and policies around it remain strong, he said.

According to the CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the U.S., wireless networks supported more data traffic than ever in 2022 — 73 trillion megabytes. The U.S. wireless industry also invested $39 billion last year.

“We, as a company, are investing more in fiber than we ever have, historically,” Stankey said. “There are others doing the same.”

He pointed to an example in 2020, when Europe warned consumers not to use streaming services like Netflix to avoid potential disruptions of internet service. The pandemic only amplified streaming service usage when consumers were often stuck in the house due to restrictions.

But none of that happened in the U.S., Stankey said, because of reliable wireless networks.

“I don’t know what the next five years have in store for us,” he said. “The policies of the previous five years will put us in a very good position.”

Stankey also said 5G has allowed for more capacity to be put into the infrastructure without prices going up. “It takes a little while for these ecosystems to develop, but we’re now getting to that tipping point of development,” he said.

5G will soon play an even broader role in connected vehicles, such as adjusting traffic patterns in real time, he said.

Stankey also touched on the state of the economy. He said he never understood why below-normal interest rates were allowed to go on as long as they did.

“My simple conclusion would be: If we went through an extended period of below-average interest rates, should you expect that you’re going to go through an extended period of maybe above-average interest rates? One would probably conclude that at some point, you’re going to have to work off some of the irregular behaviors and decisions that were made during that period by having the opposite occur,” Stankey said.

People want to see a “more stable inflation environment,” he said, while acknowledging that he expects interest rates to remain elevated.

“I think the government ultimately will have to step back and say we need to be disciplined about how we’re investing in spending because if we’re not and we’re catalyzing some of that inflation, then there’s a problem,” Stankey said. “I don’t know that we’ve seen that come to rest yet.”