AT&T CEO Hints at Future Network “Management” vis a vis iPhone

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AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega hinted at steps his company might take to manage throughput on his company's data network in order to deal with the iPhone. At issue for the company is the fact that 3% of its smartphone customers (i.e. iPhone users) are using 40% of all smartphone traffic, an issue the company feels it has to "manage" the situation so that other users aren't "crowded out."

Mr. de la Vega's comments were made during a keynote presentation at the wireless industry's annual CTIA Conference in San Diego being held this week, as reported by Mark Sullivan for PC World.

During his keynote, he was shy on details on just how his company would "manage" network throughput, but an easy leap is that AT&T would choose to throttle bandwidth for iPhone users. This is the same sort of approach that cable companies have wanted to implement for their own high-usage customers, especially those using BitTorrent.

"We have to manage the network to make sure that the few cannot crowd out the many," Mr. de la Vega said during his keynote, and Mr. Sullivan stressed that the phrase "crowded out" was used no fewer than five times during that portion of the keynote.

He also said that demand for wireless broadband has increased some 5,000 percent in just the last three years. AT&T has worked to increase its network capacity, but the company has come under criticism for being unable to stay ahead of iPhone use.

Mr. de la Vega said that new bandwidths would need to be opened up, but there aren't many frequencies that are open for possible use, and what little there is would take years for networks to be established that use them. Hence the need to network "management."


Bryan Chaffin

The difference between the cable companies’ high-usage customers and AT&T’s iPhone-toting high-usage customers is stark: Many, if not most, of the cable companies’ high-usage customers are busily pilfering pirated movies and music, while AT&T’s quandary is simply that iPhone users use data because the iPhone is that much more usable than competing smartphone products.

It’s hard for me to feel sorry for AT&T, or to feel bad about being a bandwidth-using iPhone user, when it’s that same iPhone-usability that’s gotten me to pay AT&T’s iPhone data rates to begin with.


I agree with Bryan. The iPhone data plan has got to be one of the most expensive in all of the US, and with so many customers you’d think they’d be able to get their act together.


Ditto… Can you imagine AT&T’s situation if the rest of the smartphones on the network didn’t suck? (corollary to de la Vega line of reasoning). Can you imagine the situation if the iPhone hadn’t come along? Would ANY OTHER MAKER have reached this level? (I think not; competition still can’t really beat the iPhone). Would there be any pressure on AT&T to improve their network? (I think not; AT&T is griping like a bunch of babies over the price of wild success.)  In a nutshell, the best smartphone won; we captured the flag, and were keeping it. &%#@ the other guys wink


Preventing actions like this is part of why the FCC is so keen to set up net neutrality rules for wireless internet access. The issue here is not ‘fairness for other users’ it’s AT&T not wanting to invest properly in infrastructure… basically, they got caught with their pants down.

PS - If they do implement something like this, it will be just another nail in the coffin of the exclusivity agreement with AT&T.


The allegation is frightening enough. Next time my iPhone is being slow (on 3G), I’ll be thinking, “Oh man… is AT&T throttling me today? Are they doing some kind of stealth pilot program?” The fact that their own CEO would give them such bad PR is surprising (though maybe it should not be by now).

Eugene King

Maybe this might be a good reason to drop the AT&T iPhone exclusivity arrangement.

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