What makes him powerful: AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) continues to benefit greatly from its exclusive deal with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to carry the iconic iPhone in the U.S. market. With Ralph de la Vega at the helm, AT&T and Apple in June launched the iPhone 4, which once again proved to be a huge win for AT&T. The company activated 5.2 million iPhones in the third quarter and added 2.6 million new customers to its network, bringing its total subscriber base to 92.8 million.
But de la Vega is not banking on the iPhone alone to keep AT&T on its current growth trajectory--and with good reason. Although Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) hasn't confirmed it, numerous news reports have circulated indicating that AT&T will lose its exclusive relationship with Apple in early 2011 when Verizon will supposedly introduce a CDMA version of the iPhone.
To compensate for that potential loss, AT&T has been expanding its smartphone portfolio to include devices from Palm, RIM and Android-based devices such as the Motorola (NYSE:MOT) Backflip, the HTC Aria and the Samsung Captivate. AT&T also played a high-profile role in the launch of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 OS. At the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 launch event this fall, de la Vega called Windows Phone 7 a "breakthrough smartphone experience."
Under de la Vega's direction, AT&T is moving full-speed ahead with its emerging devices effort, which in the third quarter connected 1.12 million devices. Indeed, the company provides data support for the 3G model of Apple's iPad tablet and recently launched Dell's Android-powered Streak tablet.
But perhaps the most groundbreaking move by de la Vega in 2010 was when AT&T in June made the nation's first definitive step toward tiered data pricing by instituting usage limits on what were previously unlimited smartphone data plans. Executives from the nation's largest carriers had long discussed a move toward tiered, bucketed data pricing scenarios for smartphones, but AT&T was the first to actually implement the changes.
Now other operators are following in AT&T's footsteps. --Sue