Wireless data hogs may have to pay, suggests AT&T CEO

AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega has revealed that the US carrier may have to force its heaviest consumers of wireless data to scale back their usage through the introduction of tiered pricing.

At an analyst meeting in New York on Wednesday, de la Vega said that three per cent of the operator’s smartphone users generate 40 per cent of wireless data traffic on the network. The popularity of wireless data in key markets such as Manhattan and San Francisco has caused network performance issues for AT&T, he conceded. “We’re going to focus on giving incentives to that small percentage of users to reduce or modify their usage,” de la Vega said.

While de la Vega seemed to be suggesting that a greedy few are causing problems for a more reasonable majority, he has come under fire from US commentators for trying to foist the blame for his network’s shortcomings onto his own customers. AT&T has made much of its exclusive relationship with Apple and has heavily promoted the iPhone and associated unlimited data tariffs.

De la Vega said that “the iPhone has been very good to us,” and revealed that Q309 saw record activations of the iconic handset. But many customers have complained about the performance of the carrier’s network and the issue highlights the problems carriers face if they fail to scale their networks up to cope with the performance requirements of the mobile data boom they have for so long been hoping would arrive.

The USA now leads the world in terms of smartphones and mobile data, de la Vega said during his presentation, saying the market has 40 per cent of the world’s smartphone users. “What we’re seeing in wireless data is [being seen] nowhere else on the planet,” he said.

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