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AT&T chairman urges open devices, platforms and networks globally

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 15, 2011
Stephenson even chides partner Apple for not being more open

FRAMINGHAM 15 FEBRUARY 2011 - BARCELONA -- In a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress here, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson today prodded carriers, manufacturers and regulators around the globe to create openness and interoperability in mobile devices, platforms and networks.

His remarks even included some polite digs at Apple for requiring iTunes songs and App Store apps to run on Apple devices.

Speaking to a global audience, Stephenson said wireless smartphones and tablets need to be able to operate across countries and geographies in what is known as "spectrum harmony." He noted that a lack of international interoperability is currently a major obstacle for wireless telecommunications.

"AT&T is committed to the world's most advanced network, and we want it the most open and highly available and easily addressable," Stephenson said. "Cloud [computing] will be the catalyst ... and all operators are pursuing that same path. It's consistent across all geographies, but there are significant public policy issues to pursue."

Giving people the ability to play the coming avalanche of videos on all kinds of wireless devices and no matter what network they're using "is going to be everything," he said, arguing that public regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere need to find the "highest and best use" when allocating licenses to private carriers for wireless spectrum.

Regulators need to be "aggressive about getting spectrum into the right hands, and policies have to harmonize across geographies," he added.

"If our object is to grow the [wireless] pie, interoperability is necessary," he said. AT&T will begin rolling out a 4G wireless technology known as LTE across the 700 MHz band in the U.S. in mid-2011, he said. "Spectrum is going to play a huge role [globally], especially as we move to 4G. It's most important that regulators have to be aware of this if we want to create interoperability across geographies and countries."

U.S.-based wireless users of most tablets and smartphones aren't able to easily connect to European and Asian 4G cellular networks, at least without expensive roaming costs.

Stephenson was joined in the crowded keynote session by several executives from carriers around the globe who also issued calls for openness. Some said there is a need to eliminate "walled gardens" -- a phrase that's generally used to refer to the situation that arises when carriers or others limit the number of sites that wireless users can visit on the Web.

Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile, also touched on the theme of keeping networks and devices open, noting that his company has pursued interoperability with carriers in Japan and South Korea.


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