The most pressing need for broadband providers in the U.S. is more spectrum to enable the mobile ecosystem, said AT&T’s CEO and chairman speaking at an event in Grapevine, Texas. At the TIA 2011 conference, AT&T’s (s t) Randall Stephenson replayed his talking points on why AT&T needs to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion. At least he’s consistent.
He did provide an excellent overview of the current scenario in which we find ourselves in the mobile industry, noting that if you mobilize a service, usage jumps. Back at the dawn of the mobile phone revolution, voice was mobilized and usage jumped (it’s still rising today according to Stephenson). In the 90s, email was mobilized and usage jumped. And in 2007, with the dawn of the iPhone (s aapl), Internet access was mobilized and data usage jumped dramatically — by 8,000 percent for AT&T within three years.
However, this is only the beginning in Stephenson’s assessment. AT&T estimates data will grow on its mobile network by 8 to 10 times by 2015. In addition to the rush of data, the services adopted will be unpredictable, leading Stephenson to predict, “The next five years are not going to be planned and they are not going to be deliberate. In fact, they will be somewhat chaotic and will come faster.”
Stephenson’s plan is to offer a network that can deliver “secure, controlled chaos” for consumers, businesses and applications. He mentioned open network APIs as well as efforts by operators to make it easy to develop their apps and get them onto devices and the network. I assume he’s talking about efforts such as AT&T’s developer outreach and mobile device testing labs.
However, Stephenson wasn’t about to let go of his main point, which is that to make all of this controlled chaos happen on mobile networks, the industry needs spectrum first and foremost, and AT&T needs T-Mobile specifically for this reason. In AT&T’s eyes, the deal will give it immediate access to spectrum in markets where it is tapped out and will also propel it to cover more of rural America (and invest $8 billion more in the network as part of transitioning T-Mobile’s network to a Long Term Evolution Network).
Beyond that, Stephenson called for “an environment of sustained investment,” in the network. To do that, he said the industry needs “the right tax policy and a regulatory environment that is conducive to this type of investment.” I had hoped for a bit more on actual innovations and insights into how AT&T might offer services on top of its new networks, or manage the amazing onslaught of mobile applications, but instead I got a reprise of Stephenson’s testimony in Washington D.C last week and a veiled call for government handouts. Ma Bell is singing the same old song.