AT&T CTO Lays Out Data Network Strategy

The wireless carrier is transitioning its 3G to the 850-MHz spectrum in many major markets, John Donovan said in his CTIA keynote.



AT&T's CTO John Donovan is defending the wireless carrier's mobile networks and strategies against growing criticism from a small, but vocal, group of subscribers.

The carrier has been slammed by some over poor 3G reception, particularly for iPhone handsets. Donovan acknowledged there have been some issues, but he remains confident the company's strategies will enable it to remain ahead of consumer demand.

"I'm well aware of what's being said in the press, in blogs, and on Twitter," Donovan said during a Thursday keynote at the CTIA conference in San Diego. "But I don't base my network plans on what I read on blogs. No one knows more about the wireless data customer experience than AT&T."

Donovan said it's not just iPhone users that are taxing the data network, as BlackBerry smartphones, messaging devices, and high-bandwidth applications such as Pandora and XM Radio are leading to a surge in mobile data traffic. AT&T's wireless data traffic has increased by more than 18 times over the past two years, and he expects this trend to continue as the company offers more smartphones and 3G netbooks.

The company has been making many moves to boost its wireless data infrastructure to handle this trend, Donovan said. AT&T has been transitioning its 3G to the 850-MHz spectrum in many major markets, and it also plans to invest up to $18 billion this year in network improvements, including upgrading its 3G to High Speed Packet Access 7.2 Technology.

Some have argued that AT&T should skip the HSPA 7.2 upgrade and go straight to 4G, which offers theoretical download speeds of 100 Mbps. Rival Verizon Wireless is making a big push with 4G networks based on Long-Term Evolution technology, and it plans to have commercial deployments in 30 markets by the end of 2010.

"Succeeding in this market isn't just about fast speeds, but wide coverage," Donovan said. "And it's not just about a device or two, but an entire portfolio of products."

AT&T is still committed to LTE, but Donovan said it wants a wide variety of devices to be available to utilize its 4G networks. The company's HSPA 7.2 upgrade is expected to be completed in about two years, and its LTE deployment will begin sometime in 2011.


Part of the growth in the smartphone market will be for enterprise use, and this can quickly bring up multiple questions about security and mobility policies. InformationWeek analyzed how businesses can lock down data when it's on the move, and the report can be downloaded here (registration required).

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