AT&T Does Want Mobile Data Usage to Grow (As Long As it Gets Its Take)

AT&T doesn’t want mobile data usage to slow, but it’s herding users toward new punitive mobile data plans and Wi-Fi hotspots. The company handled 20 million Wi-Fi connections in first five weeks of 2010, the same number as all of 2008, said John Donovan, AT&T CTO of Operations, speaking at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco today. And today 51 percent of AT&T’s post-paid subscribers have devices that handle both voice and data, with an additional 5.8 million non-voice-centric data devices.

AT&T CTO of Operations John Donovan

So basically, there’s a crapload of demand for data delivered to mobile devices — which “shortens the distance between intention and action,” as Donovan put it. “By 2014, total traffic in 2008 rounds to zero.”

Donovan acknowledged existing strains on AT&T’s network. “We will move heaven and earth to get out in front of this demand,” he said.

But AT&T is sending mixed messages on mobile bandwidth consumption. On the one hand, it’s abandoning the precedent of basically unlimited mobile data — with new usage-based pricing charging up to $75 per GB. That will surely have effects on both users and developers taking pains to consume less data. Perhaps, though, they’ll move to Wi-Fi.

On the other hand, Donovan talked up the tremendous continuing growth of bandwidth-hogging apps like video. From the fall of 2009 to spring 2010, Donovan said, YouTube daily video views doubled to 2 billion views per day. “We agree with Cisco,” he said, citing that company’s projection that 90 percent of web traffic will be video by 2013. “This video wave is going to be big.”

Donovan is hoping big bandwidth usage will mean big money for AT&T. He said he expects the company to be involved in creating its own apps and “enablement layer,” in addition to providing mobile infrastructure. That could point to plans to get more hands-on with mobile OS competitors, and try to own more value-added services as part of customers’ monthly bills. “We have experience in the wired broadband side in how these things can take shape and we’ve got to jump in and compete for everything that we do,” Donovan said.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. cellphone owners have used their mobile device to record a video, 54 percent to send someone a photo or video, 20 percent to watch a video, and 15 percent to post a photo or video online, according to the most recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

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