updated 03:15 pm EDT, Thu April 2, 2009
ATT Christopher Interview
AT&T is significantly more likely to take a different approach to Internet calling and other aspects of its service when its 4G network becomes available, the carrier's chief marketing officer David Christopher said today in an interview with Electronista. While it's too early to discuss many details, the executive says that the upcoming Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard will likely mean a different approach that supports voice-over-IP apps rather than discouraging them. Since LTE creates an all-data cell network and has lower lag, a voice call is 'just an app' like anything else, Christopher notes.
Pricing may also have to change, though it's again too soon for anything definitive to be in place. The official points out that LTE should be less expensive for data than 3G; historically, the HSPA standard AT&T uses for 3G has had to bridge between the cellular and data networks and has a shorter range.
Christopher adds that AT&T's reluctance to support 3G use of VoIP apps like Skype on the iPhone or other devices is largely due to quality. Due to the nature of the technology, 3G is often too lagged to provide a natural conversation and is more prone to drop.
The discussion also gave an opportunity for Christopher to discuss the frequent problems with 3G in San Francisco and other cities. He acknowledges that the network is congested but adds t hat there are "tremendous" amounts of money being invested in upgrading problem networks, particularly in adding support for 850MHz 3G that would relieve problems with heavy traffic.
In smartphones, Christopher downplays expectations that AT&T might consolidate most of its smartphone operating systems on a single platform, such as Symbian. The addition of OS X iPhone, webOS and other platforms means the market is fragmenting rather than narrowing; AT&T is likely to keep several OS platforms on the table. AT&T developer programs like DevCentral are there to encourage app development for multiple platforms rather than to scale it back.
"It's about choice," he says.
He is nonetheless cautious about any decision AT&T might make for other operating systems. The provider is still "monitoring" Google's open-source Android platform and has a non-disclosure agreement with Palm that would prevent any mention of whether or not Palm can start offering webOS phones on AT&T. LG is in a similar situation, though Christopher notes that the Korean company is a "great partner." An example of the KM900 Arena with US-native 3G recently appeared in an FCC filing.
And though the Nokia E71x launched this week on the network, AT&T hasn't yet indicated whether it's likely to adopt the N97 or other high-end Nokia smartphones. The CMO does say that AT&T considers the E71x as part of a larger portfolio and isn't as compelled to carry a large number of phones from a single device maker.
An Apps Beta program launching today is also intended to spur a similar amount of growth for non-smartphone devices like the LG Shine or RAZR V3xx; developers will have the option of seeding test versions of apps to early adopters and get feedback before the finished version appears. The BlackBerry Curve 8300 series and other BlackBerries that won't immediately have OS support for BlackBerry App World will also be part of Apps Beta.
Concluding the talk, Christoper says that AT&T is in a necessary quiet period before its late April fiscal results appear and so can't talk about how well the iPhone is performing in the current market or what to expect in the summer. However, he adds that he can't talk about "unannounced products" that most observers believe will include a new iPhone design announced at Apple's WWDC event in June.