updated 12:15 pm EST, Thu December 17, 2009
ATT says it will turn to femtocells first
AT&T tried to allay fears of mobile data price changes late Wednesday in a brief discussion of the company's plans (subscription required). Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega is adamant that the carrier has "not made any decision" about introducing tiered pricing that would charge customers for more bandwidth. Critics had raised concern that the company would use monthly transfer caps to either delay or help pay for network upgrades.
The executive instead suggests that the carrier will use alternatives to regular cell towers to mitigate the load on its network. Its in-testing 3G femtocells will give customers a local 3G base to use with voice and data, but the company is also considering expanding the number of available free Wi-Fi hotspots and would reduce the burden from smartphones and data modems. Part of this may already be in effect as McDonald's Wi-Fi, run by AT&T, will be free to use from January onwards.
Most of the steps are direct reactions to the iPhone, which has been primarily responsible for the roughly 5,000 percent jump in data traffic on AT&T's network in the past three years. While concerns have been raised about the efficiency of the iPhone's cellular performance, the spike is mostly attributed to its much more intuitive web browsing as well as a rush of third-party apps, many of which depend on Internet access.