AT&T's de la Vega: We're on pace for 'record' smartphone sales in Q4

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is on track to sell a record number of smartphones in the fourth quarter, according to AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega. He said that in the first two months of the fourth quarter the carrier sold 6.4 million smartphones, more than the 6.1 million it sold in all of the third quarter.

AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega

De la Vega

De la Vega, speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, said that "those two months alone would be the second best smartphone sales quarter for AT&T Mobility." The company sold a record 9.4 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of last year. He said the figures put AT&T on track to sell 26 million smartphones in 2012, one million more than AT&T had previously expected.

AT&T is seeing strong momentum not only for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5, but also for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phones like the HTC One X and LG Optimus G, de la Vega said. He also said he is "really excited about what we're seeing from Windows Phone," especially the Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Lumia 920 and HTC 8X.

The AT&T chief also said that, in less than four months, the carrier signed up 5 million customers to its shared data plans, with around 25 percent of those customers opting for 10 GB of data or more per month. Further, he said that average revenue per user on the shared plans is higher than AT&T had expected and that 15 percent of the carrier's Mobile Share customers are switching from its unlimited plans (AT&T does not force new customers to sign up for its shared data plans, as Verizon does).

De la Vega also touched on several other issues, including the company's network, toll-free data plans and the state of competition in the market. He said the carrier now covers 160 million people with LTE, and that 90 percent of the company's HSPA+ network, which covers 285 million POPs, runs on enhanced fiber backhaul.

Like Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) CEO Lowell McAdam, who spoke at the UBS conference Tuesday, de la Vega said that AT&T is continuing to explore the concept of toll-free data plans, which would allow application providers to pick up the cost of subscribers' data usage on specific services. He said the company is seeking feedback from application providers who might want to participate in such a model, but didn't offer any further details.

Also like McAdam, de la Vega was asked about Softbank's proposed $20.1 billion purchase of 70 percent of Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile's planned merger with MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS). He said neither deal would affect the fundamental dynamics of the U.S. wireless industry, which he said would remain a business that requires a great deal of network investment. However, de la Vega said the Softbank deal would strengthen Sprint's balance sheet and improve its competitive position.

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Correction, Dec. 5, 2012: This article incorrectly stated that the percentage of AT&T's Mobile Share customers who are switching from its unlimited plans. It is 15 percent.