Shares of AT&T (NYSE: T) are slipping over 3 percent as CEO Randall Stephenson informed Citibank’s Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference that the economy is taking a visible toll on the company’s broadband and traditional access business. Non-paid disconnects, up since the third quarter, are the primary culprit. But so far, the company isn’t seeing weakness on the wireless side — not yet anyway. Stephenson’s key theme: “Telecom is a growth industry.”:
— Growth drivers: “The whole revenue story begins with wireless.” Voice minutes continue to grow, at a rate of 10 percent per year, but the jewel is data. Still most customers aren’t using high-ARPU smartphones, but consumer adoption is increasing. Stephenson cited his daughter’s friends, who are all using advanced handsets, such as the iPhone or the Blackberry Pearl. Mobile video is mentioned is a key application that can drive data consumption. “Mid-teen growth rates in wireless are very achievable.” In terms of future penetration, pre-paid is the big opportunity. Because costs are lower in this area, it doesn’t need to be a particularly low-margin business. Triple play is key.
— Spending: The company is nearing an end of a capex cycle in wireless, with 3G buildout done. Next gen LTE/4G will scale in 2011 at the earliest, but the 2012-2013 range is more likely.