AT&T's Stephenson: The Road to 4G

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on May 27, 2009

The two largest U.S. wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, will be using the same technology, a European standard called LTE, for the next generation of their wireless networks. That should make life easier for consumers, but don’t bet on it.

Verizon plans be begin rolling out its LTE network by the end of this year, AT&T will probably start sometime in 2010. One thing that would be great for consumers would be if they could use the new LTE devices they will need to buy on either the AT&T or Verizon network. That will be especially true during the several years it will take to build out the networks, when in any given city you may have service from one carrier or the other, but not both.,

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s D7:All Things Digital
conference in Carlsbad, Calif., AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was thoroughly noncommittal on the question of whether customers will be allowed to roam freely across the networks.

He noted that there is no technical barrier to prevent this. But data roaming on 3G networks has not always been easy, even where there is no technical impediment. And where it has been allowed, it has often been expensive. He said that carrier would proably find it in their economic interest to make roaming possible--but offered no promises.

Stephenson also said the possibility that data pricing for the iPhone and other smartphones, currently offered on a flat-rate basis, might move to a tiered model at some point. "Pricing models will change over time," Stephenson said. Asked by moderator Walt Mossberg whether that meant prices will go up or down, Stpehenson said: "It depends on who you are. Who knows where this thing goes over time?"

Stephenson also gave a glimpse of the extent to which smaptphones are coming to dominate all forms of wireless data. Hesaid an analysis of the usage of AT&T's 20,000-plus Wi-Fi hot spots, 38% of the traffic comes from smartphones.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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