updated 05:35 pm EDT, Fri October 9, 2009
CTIA speech insinuates possible iPhone limits
AT&T's Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega, speaking at a CTIA keynote this week, hinted about "managing" iPhone users' data accounts. The executive spoke broadly about a small portion of users that account for an extremely large percentage of overall bandwidth. Although Apple's device wasn't explicitly blamed as the core problem, iPhone owners are known to consume much more data than users of other platforms. Despite de la Vega's acknowledgment of the need for internal controls, he voiced opposition to government intervention.
The usage data de la Vega cited was likely from research indicating that three percent of AT&T users consume 40 percent of the bandwidth. On average, those users consume 13 times the bandwidth of the average smartphone user. De La Vega stressed effective management of the network, "to make sure that the few cannot crowd the many."
Although the executive focused on the need for a revamped system, he did not provide any specific details on methods to achieve the goals. PC World's Mark Sullivan speculates that the company could be planning on rationing data bandwidth for the most voracious users, or potentially limit usage of certain types of content. Bandwidth throttling was a huge PR nightmare for Comcast Cable, and this may be the fist hint at a similar data-rationing plan by AT&T. Considering the negative press from AT&T's network issues in certain large cities such as New York and San Francisco, this could become a second public relations issue for the company and its iPhone customer base.
AT&T CTO John Donovan, speaking at the following CTIA keynote, also declined to solely blame the iPhone for network strain, although he did acknowledge the device is a contributing factor. To accommodate increases in data usage, the executive claims AT&T is set to double use of fiber communication to its towers this year.
De la Vega expressed a desire to keep the mobile Internet free of regulation. "The wireless industry is strong, thriving, innovative and open," he said. "Let's keep it that way."
FCC head Julius Genachowski echoed de la Vega's concerns regarding the limitations of current infrastructure. The Chairman warned of an impending "spectrum crisis" as the increasing data traffic outpaces the ability for carriers to add bandwidth. Specific plans were not described, however, as formal dialogue is scheduled for the near future.