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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

Stephenson picked up on those sentiments adding: "Chairman Wang said it best, that customers don't seem to care about network access ... or whether it is Wi-Fi or 4G. The customer expectation for an open and seamless [wireless] environment will only increase and the more we facilitate that openness, [the better]."

Stephenson added there was a lesson to be learned from text messaging, which was once was not possible from one carrier's network to another's in the U.S. "Text messaging was a closed wall, and ultimately we created interoperability and the demand for text just skyrocketed," he said. "An open and interoperable environment ... will drive mobile broadband, and mobile broadband with the cloud will drive the next wave."

There were about 26 million text users in the U.S. in 2001, and that figure more than doubled to 58 million by 2009 after it became possible to text across carriers' networks, Stephenson noted.

He called the Amazon Kindle e-reader a good example of interoperability in action, noting that a user can read an Amazon e-book on a Kindle and on other devices, including Android smartphones and iPads. "The customer experience is agnostic," he noted. "It's a perfect example of how the mobile Internet and cloud computing are going to be powerful over time."

Stephenson's comment on the Kindle's interoperability was considered ironic, since AT&T had a deal with Apple to be the exclusive U.S. carrier to sell iPhones for nearly four years before Verizon Wireless began selling the iPhone 4 last week.

In fact, Stephenson mildly took Apple to task for requiring paid iTunes music downloads and App Store apps to run on Apple products. Noting that the songs people buy on iTunes are currently "Apple OS- and device-dependent," he said, "but we'll see [marketing and financial] models less dependent on the device" in the future. He didn't suggest any specific examples, however.

Regarding video downloads, Stephenson said that half of tablets and laptops today are streaming video content in the U.S. but customers can't easily port those videos from one device to another, and they incur some expense if they do.

"Buy-once and run-anywhere [video] is slow to emerge," he said. "We in the [wireless] ecosystem have to come to grips with this. Buying an app on one OS and buying it again on a second or third [OS], that's not how customers expect to experience this world."


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