AT&T's Donovan defends network, touts connected devices

SAN FRANCISCO--At the Open Mobile Summit conference here AT&T CTO John Donovan once again defended his company's wireless network, arguing AT&T is spending more money this year than any other company to improve its coverage and capacity. However, he admitted that the task is enormous because customers' appetite for bandwidth is keeping pace with the carrier's investments in capacity.

ATT CTO John DonovanDonovan said AT&T is constantly improving its network usage modeling and that no two cities have similar usage demands, so the carrier looks at every U.S. city individually to prepare for consumer data usage. He added that the company is in the midst of its 850 MHz overlay and then it will re-optimize the network.

During his keynote address, Donovan said that as the industry simplifies the wireless experience for the consumer, the more complexity is added to the infrastructure. "This is requiring us to rethink the network," Donovan said. He added that AT&T estimates it has 1 billion devices connected to its wireless and wireline network and that in 10 years it expects to connect the next billion devices. Much of that growth will come from emerging devices such as ereaders, navigation devices, netbooks and more. "Since 2005 we have certified more than 1,000 non-stock devices," Donovan said. "This year we certified 400 non-stock devices. We think that is six times our nearest competitor."

Donovan later joined several other industry executives, including Google's Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, in a panel discussion about the open mobile landscape. AT&T and Google are currently in the midst of a battle over the Google Voice application. AT&T has asked the FCC to investigate the application, arguing the service is improperly blocking calls to rural areas and should be regulated like a traditional telephone service. Google has countered that it blocks calls to fewer than 100 specific phone numbers due to what Google said were high-cost "traffic pumping schemes."

However, Donovan and Cerf nimbly avoided discussing Google Voice and instead talked with the other panelists about how to define open mobile. Cerf said he was uncomfortable with assigning any definition to it. Donovan, meanwhile, said that customers don't care about open, all they care about is their experience. He added that he believes there has to be some boundaries around openness because consumers want mobile to be open and convenient but they also want their privacy respected. "Customers want mobile to make their lives easier, but they expect you to take care of their security," he said.

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