A couple weeks ago, AT&T Mobility's President Ralph de la Vega made comments at an investor event in response to a question, suggesting that the company is looking at various ways to reign in the data usage of their voracious iPhone users. After the resulting firestorm of outrage that surprised nobody except perhaps Mr. de la Vega, the company has been seeking to soften the perception of their efforts as seen in this BusinessWeek article today. I found this particular quote illuminating:
In an effort to explain his thinking, de la Vega told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that AT&T is knee-deep in a market research project that asks consumers in focus groups to give their opinions on a range of potential tactics to free up network bandwidth for Apple (AAPL) iPhone users and other AT&T subscribers.
Forget focus groups, I can tell you what those opinions are going to be right now. They want their unlimited bandwidth, and they really don't give a damn about maintaining AT&T's cash flow margins. Nor will they care about Verizon's, or Sprint's, or Clearwire's for that matter.
The problem With AT&T's plans to address iPhone data demands is that there is really nothing they can do in the short term. Nothing at all. The iPhone is built to guzzle bandwidth, and the more it guzzles the more people like it. Whether AT&T raises prices err moves from unlimited to tiered plans or tries to herd err encourage people to use hotspots more, it doesn't really matter how they market the changes it will only make users angry. And if they bite the bullet and double the pace at which they roll out bandwidth without getting paid for it, users and apps will easily keep pace and demand they double it again - and no they will still not be happy.
The bottom line is that the iPhone is a 4G device on a 3G network. People are ready for 4G, but 4G isn't ready for people and it won't really be here for a year or more. In the meantime, we will be bombarded with press telling us how great it will be when it gets here. But until it finally arrives, both the media and customers are going to continue to play an endless game of "Pin the Tail on the ILEC".
Ah well, they're AT&T, they can take it. But sometimes I wonder if they aren't themselves secretly rooting for Apple to finally sign up another carrier already.