AT&T of Dallas says it invested more than $1 billion in Arkansas wireless and wireless networks since 2012 and plans to introduce a new product, fixed wireless broadband.
AT&T Arkansas State President Ed Drilling said planning for the new product is underway, and the company aims to have much of it set up by 2017.
"Probably about 40 percent of it will be completed in 2017 and then we'll finish the rest of it out over the next several years," he said. "But we'll be getting broadband to over 50,000 living units that don't have it right now. It will be a big effort on our part."
Full details on fixed wireless broadband weren't yet available, but Drilling said the product involves installing an antenna on a customer's home. The antenna brings broadband Internet from AT&T cell towers and creates a Wi-Fi network inside the home.
The product will be a key component of AT&T's participation in the Connect America Fund, which aims to bring broadband to underserved rural areas.
"We're going to be using this fixed wireless broadband product to do it," Drilling said. "And it's a really cool product. It's going to be very fast, something that operates off of our cell towers — but there are separate antennas, and it won't be the same as the macro network. It will be separate from that network."
On Thursday, AT&T Arkansas said it invested more than $550 million in its networks from 2013-2015. Drilling said most of the past years' investment has been in fiber.
"Every cell site that we've got in the state is fiber-fed, and that's what produces the LTE, or the really fast broadband capability that those sites have," Drilling said.
He said the company's fiber build-out might have slowed in the last three years, but the company was poised to ramp up again over the next three to four years as AT&T adds new, fiber-fed cell sites.
The new infrastructure comes amid high demand. Drilling said Arkansas ranks near the top for people with internet access solely through wireless connections.
"Above 56 percent of the people in the state, all their connectivity comes from a wireless phone — so there’s a lot of usage," Drilling said. "So we have to keep on investing in our network — and in the capacity our network can handle — so we can keep up with that demand and make sure their experience is a good one."
The company also added jobs. It had more than 2,300 in 2014, more than 2,350 in 2015 and employs 2,400 plus in Arkansas now, according to Anita Smith, an AT&T spokeswoman.
Drilling said those jobs have been a combination of part- and full-time positions in departments across the board.