AT&T's de la Vega hints strongly at family data plans

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is seriously considering a move to shared family data plans, AT&T's Ralph de la Vega said. A senior Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) executive recently said Verizon is also moving toward such plans, an indication that families may soon be able to pool data as well as wireless voice minutes.

AT&T's Ralph de la Vega

de la Vega

"That jury is still out," said de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, according to Cnet. "But once you have so many devices that you carry, you may want a shared plan. The more focus groups we do, the more we think that may be the way. We're working on it." De la Vega would not say when AT&T would support that kind of data plan, but said it would come "soon."

De la Vega's comments are the clearest indication to date that AT&T is working on such plans. Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said last month that it is a "logical progression" to assume that Verizon Wireless will offer shared data plans, though he also declined to give a time frame for launching the plans. 

In a wide-ranging interview and question-and-answer session at the AllThingsD D9 conference, de la Vega touched on a host of other wireless issues, including AT&T's move to LTE, the company's use of microcells and, of course, AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.

De la Vega said AT&T's purchase of T-Mobile would deliver network enhancements that would be the equivalent of five to 10 years of work for AT&T. He said without the T-Mobile deal AT&T will only be able to deploy LTE to around 80 percent of the country, compared with a claimed 97 percent with the merger. The AT&T chief also acknowledged that the carrier is behind Verizon in terms of LTE deployments, but said AT&T would catch up in two to three years.

De la Vega also was pressed on continued poor call and data quality in New York City and San Francisco. He responded that in New York, AT&T has deployed 40 MHz of spectrum, or four carriers, and is adding a fifth--more spectrum deployed by any carrier in any city in the world, he said. However, he acknowledged that in San Francisco, due to zoning, it takes two to three times longer to deploy a cell site than in other major cities.

Additionally, the AT&T chief was asked why the carrier simply does not give out femtocells en masse to improve coverage. The company launched a 3G Microcell offering last spring. De la Vega said the company has found that there are actually some interference concerns with the device, which was developed in conjunction with Cisco Systems. He said femtocells improve service when customers have very low signals. "But if you have a mid-range or great signal, you may actually negatively impact your service," he said. "And that's why we aren't marketing these very heavily, and we're only giving them out to customers that we see as having great long-term value and that sit in bad reception areas."

For more:
- see this AllThingsD live blog
- see this Engadget live blog
- see this Cnet article

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