CTIA WIRELESS It was hard to tell who was more entertaining on the CTIA keynote panel Tuesday: Sprint CEO Dan Hesse or moderator Jim Cramer from CNBC. However, in light of AT&Ts proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, which had everyone clamming up, the panel set a good tone for the conference.
Along with Hesse, Cramer interviewed Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Dan Mead, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless. Stopping short of giving the wireless industry full credit for the pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East, Hesse and de la Vega acknowledged that the technology from this industry has played a part.
Hesse said our Constitution allows for people to freely assemble and with technology they dont have to do it face-to-face. It is a youth-oriented society and they will play a big role in social issues,” he said.
More to the point at hand, Cramer asked about the merger, about service quality and charging, but also gave panelists the opportunity to dispel a misperception about the lack of leadership in the U.S. on mobility. He asked why the U.S. is so far behind other countries.
Mead said: Thats a myth. We are seeing great advancement in broadband delivery and enablement. It has put pressure on us in terms of the quality of experience, but we are leading the industry. This is the most robust network in the world.”
Acknowledging that the U.S. may have relinquished its leadership in the shift from 2.5G to 3G, Hesse said weve got our mojo back. Data over apps and devices really took hold in the U.S., so we not only lead in 4G, we lead in 3G, taking over from Japan.” He gave kudos to AT&T and the iPhone for driving this and added, In three years the U.S. went from fair criticism to being No. 1 again.”
On the topic everyone was hoping for comment on, Hesse said he agreed with The New York Times, which said there was little about the proposed acquisition for consumers to cheer about. He said that if the transaction proceeds, it would give a 70 percent market share to the top two providers. I do have concerns it would stifle [innovation] in the hands of just two providers,” he said.
Mead said the NY Times position was overblown and that the underlying issue about fostering innovation is fundamentally around spectrum policy. The industry will go through changes, but making sure we are an industry that continues to lead will ensure opportunities for consumers. So I am not concerned [about consolidation],” Mead said.
De la Vega did say that data usage has grown 8,000 percent over four years and will grow 8 to 10 times in next five years. So what you saw Sunday (the acquisition announcement) will help to alleviate what we face in several cities. It is in the public interest that we solve that.”
Hesse said Sprint will continue to go to market with unlimited pricing plans. It is important for us to defer to end users in the way they want to buy. We differentiate around simplicity and value and will maintain our unlimited position.”
Mead said unlimited data plans have been important for the growth of adoption in the industry. But the whole industry is looking at whether there should be caps or metered billing. Some of us have made moves there; some havent.”
Asked if Verizon passed on buying T-Mobile, Mead said, We didnt think there was a need. We are extremely confident where we are at with out asserts.”
For now, these leaders consider most of the big over-the-top players such as Netflix, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google to be friends and important business partners rather than foes.