AT&T: Wireless penetration will reach 300% in 2013

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CHICAGO--AT&T's Vice President of Emerging Devices David Haight told the audience at the 4G World conference here this morning that AT&T (NYSE:T) estimates embedded devices will drive U.S. wireless penetration from 90 percent today to 300 percent by 2013. 

AT&T's Vice President of Emerging Devices David Haight That growth likely will come from a variety of different devices, including tablets. Haight said AT&T will launch Samsung's GalaxyTab tablet by the holidays, and will launch a tablet from Open Peak in early 2011. However, he added that he doesn't expect the real "explosion" in tablets to occur until the second quarter of 2011. AT&T is set to sell the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad later this month in its stores.

Haight admitted that not all embedded devices have been a success. He was particularly critical of wireless operators for making embedded laptops less appealing to consumers. "We haven't gotten the model right yet," he said. The reason consumers aren't buying embedded laptops, he added, is because operators make consumers sign a two-year broadband wireless contract (which typically costs around $60 per month) when they purchase the device. The answer is to come up with rate plans similar to the iPad 3G. AT&T offers monthly, no-contract mobile broadband plans to iPad owners.

Although Haight was speaking at a 4G wireless event, he admitted that when it comes to embedded devices AT&T is focused primarily on 3G. In particular, the company is working with its module vendors Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Huawei and ZTE to drive down the costs of 3G modules to encourage growth in 3G-embedded devices.

But Haight did briefly touch on AT&T's network evolution, noting that the operator is currently deploying HSPA+ and plans to begin deploying LTE by mid-2011, covering between 70 million and 75 million POPs by the end of next year. Interestingly, Haight revealed that AT&T is trialing LTE in Dallas and Baltimore, but declined to go into any more details on those trials. 

He did, however, tout the fact that AT&T LTE subscribers will be able to fall back to HSPA+ speeds when they are outside LTE coverage areas. "Falling back to HSPA+ is a huge advantage for consumers," Haight said. He added: "Going from LTE to 3.6 Mbps is like whiplash," a statement likely directed at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), which announced earlier this month that it will launch LTE in 38 markets by year-end. Verizon LTE subscribers, when roaming outside those LTE markets, will fall back to Verizon's CDMA 1xEVDO network.

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