AT&T Mobility Chief: New 3G iPhone Is a Game-changer

After months of rumor-driven frenzy, the much talked about 3G iPhone from Apple finally became a reality, promising yet another revolution in the mobile Internet experience. Offering a combination of great user interface with (slow) DSL-level speeds and location-based technologies, the new 3G iPhone is a game-changer.

Those are not my views; they come to use from Ralph de la Vega, president and chief executive officer of AT&T Mobility, the wireless division of San Antonio, Texas-based AT&T. A few hours after the release of the new phone, de la Vega chatted with me about the iPhone, its impact on location-based services, enterprise mobility and of course, the wireless web revolution it will unleash. Here are excerpts from our interview:

Om Malik: What are your thoughts on this new iPhone?
Ralph de la Vega (RDLV): This device is a true game-changer. Why? The immediacy of the data at your fingertips is huge. Imagine, looking up anything, anywhere. It (3G iPhone) allows you to leave your computer at home. It totally and completely mobilizes your data. Before this device you weren’t really untethered, but with this you are. I think people have tried to build a $100 laptop, and here is a $200 phone that can do all that over 3G. It will have a big impact, and will be ubiquitous.

OM: What are the big changes you think it will bring?
RDLV: When I was at the last CIO Forum, I thought people would ask me about lowering wireless prices. Instead I had CIOs asking me about push mail and security on the iPhone. I imagine they were getting questions from people within their company. I think what’s going to happen is that small groups of developers will start writing applications for their enterprise, and this is going to lead to the mobilization of the enterprise like never before.

OM: Do you think today is a red-letter day for location-based services?
RDLV: Absolutely! I think you will see a whole lot of applications using LBS and there are entrepreneurs who are going to be building them. This is such a huge opportunity. I think it will be interesting to see the combination of social networking apps with LBS.

OM: Ralph, as I wrote earlier today, I think the biggest concern is the ability of AT&T to handle the 3G network traffic that would emanate as people start using this new 3G iPhone. What are your thoughts?
RDLV: We have tried to model the usage of the new phone and prepared the network accordingly. We have taken our 2G iPhone usage data and we feel extremely comfortable to be able to deal with the demand. We have a maximum throughput of 3.6 Mbps and soon it will be 20 Mbps. The core of the network is going to run faster as well.

As Steve Jobs said in his speech, our 3G networks already have Wi-Fi like speeds. There are built in checks. As Steve pointed out in his speech, files above 10 MB will be downloaded over Wi-Fi that is fed by broadband connections. I think most average users are just that average and use data accordingly. There are, of course, bandwidth hogs.

OM: It seems like this is a device that is ready for mobile video and there are a lot of applications being developed for it that encourage mobile video streaming. Isn’t that going to overwhelm your 3G network?
RDLV: Clearly streaming video is the largest bandwidth-consuming application, but it is still not clear how many people will view video on it. We will know when we see the data. We have built the network with a lot of capacity, and we have it in control in the short term. So if we have a problem in the future, we will have the data which we can use to fix the problem.

OM: What are you doing about the bandwidth hogs?
RDLV: We are letting the customers decide the usage.

OM: Has there been a change in the cost of data plans?
RDLV: The data plans are different on the 3G iPhone vs. the 2G iPhone. Consumers will pay $30 a month every month, while enterprises will pay $45 a month. This is what you pay us on other PDA devices such as BlackBerry Curve. The SMS messages are not bundled anymore, and you pay for what you want. Again, the prices are based on what you buy.

Related Link: Robert Scoble interviewed John Donovan, the new CTO of AT&T, about the 3G iPhone and a while slew of topics. Have a look on Scoble/FastCompany.tv web site.

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