LAS VEGAS-AT&T CEO and president Randall Stephenson suggested during the opening keynote at the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference that the United States continued to lead the world in wireless innovation, but that its lead could be threatened in years ahead. In addition, Stephenson also detailed the new AT&T WorkBench for iPhone, an application that allows enterprise applications to be controlled via the iPhone with "reliability and security."
"The U.S. is leading the world here, but we've seen America lose its lead in fields we once dominated," Stephenson said, taking the stage at the Las Vegas Convention Center at the start of the three-day event, which brings together a variety of carriers, mobile hardware manufacturers, and mobile application designers. "The challenge in the years ahead is to...extend our leadership. Momentum is on our side. Opportunities are incredibly large. We can't afford to mess this up at this stage."
One of the keys to the United States maintaining its lead will be spectrum. "Limited spectrum means limited bandwidth and limited growth," Stephenson said. "Spectrum is the backbone for this industry; it is crucial for delivering innovation and productivity."
The FCC recently announced a new spectrum strategy that will include auctioning off a 700-megahertz portion of the airwaves at some point this summer. Companies such as AT&T have a substantial stake in the FCC's future actions, which are generating a considerable undercurrent of discussion at CTIA. Implicit in Stephenson's keynote address was a viewpoint that less regulation on the government's part would translate into necessary innovation and productivity in future years.
Stephenson devoted a portion of his speech to AT&T WorkBench for iPhone, which he said would allow "Web enterprise applications to be controlled with reliability and security, making it a powerful tool for business productivity." The product, he added, had recently emerged from AT&T's research labs.
AT&T WorkBench for iPhone allows for role-based deployment of Web applications, enhanced IT controls in areas such as policy management and mobile VPN, certificate-based authentication using SCEP (Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol), and automatically updates data and applications when a device is reconnected to the network.
The application is available for free from Apple's App Store.
Although AT&T has built much of its smartphone presence on Apple's iPhone, the company has been expanding its product portfolio in new directions. Earlier in March, the carrier introduced the Motorola Backflip, a device running Google Android 1.5, or cupcake, onto its network; five Android phones are eventually planned for rollout. AT&T executives have also indicated that two smartphones running the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series operating system will make their debut on the network at an unannounced future date, and the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus are both expected to arrive in the coming months.
Adding to this crowded lineup, Google recently introduced a new version of the Nexus One is compatible with AT&T's 3G network in the United States and Rogers Wireless in Canada. The previous unlocked version of the device was only capable of accessing AT&T's 2G, or EDGE, network. While the expansion of the Nexus One onto a new network might have more relevance to the increasingly brutal competition between Google and Apple, the increased number of devices on its network suggests that AT&T has an eye towards the iPhone no longer being their exclusive device, and thus a clear-cut sales advantage, after a certain point.
However, the popularity of the iPhone has translated into something of an issue for AT&T, with users complaining that the network has been unable to support their thirst for bandwidth. AT&T has countered those complaints by insisting they've been heavily investing in their network infrastructure, but Stephenson also claimed at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media &Telecom Conference on March 2 that the carrier was considering a tiered pricing structure for data-intensive users.
"For the industry, we'll progressively move toward more of what I call variable pricing so the heavy consumers will pay more than the lower consumers," Stephenson told the audience.
In San Francisco and New York, cities with a large number of iPhone users, AT&T has reportedly been at work on improving its 3G Voice Composite Quality Index, claiming that it improved that metric by 21 percent in San Francisco for the fourth quarter of 2009. AT&T also claims to have expanded its 3G coverage area by 4,100 sites, or 360 cities, and lowered its 3G dropped call rate from 1.16 percent in Dec. 2008 to 0.91 in December 2009.
In January, AT&T announced during a quarterly earnings call that it had 85.1 million subscribers. The company saw modest declines in revenues in 2009, thanks to the global recessionary environment.
In addition to Stephenson, other speakers at CTIA include J.K. Shin, president of Samsung's Mobile Communications Business, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, and Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco. On March 25, a panel discussion on mobile technology's effect on business, media and the economy is expected to include "Avatar" director James Cameron, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabera, and U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra.