Let’s preface this by saying we mean no disrespect when referring to the CEO of AT&T Mobility, Ralph de La Vega as Ralph De La Hoya. It’s kind of like we always refer to Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse as the CEO Next Door. De La Vega always seems fired up, passionate, and fighting for his company whenever and wherever he’s speaking. These days he’s taking a lot of crap (from us included) in the purchase of T-Mobile and he is of course, standing up and fighting for the company he believes in, so it’s more of a compliment than anything…
Ralph De La Vega rounded out a somewhat gentle D9 conference this year. There were no, oh my god Walt clobbered him moments for any guest (at least in our opinion). Walt Mossberg did take the opportunity to hammer De La Vega on coverage issues in New York and San Francisco and a few other things.
More after the break
In the beginning of the interview All Things D’s Kara Swisher did let De La Vega know she just switched from AT&T to Verizon for the white iphone and better coverage. Mossberg followed up with a light right jab asking why De La Vega thought AT&T was competent enough to handle the largest wireless company in the world when they always rank so bad in service. De La Vega responded by letting them know they are constantly improving.
Improving seemed to be the theme for the entire interview whether it was based on customer service or the foundation of AT&T’s business which is of course coverage.
One of the more interesting things to come out on the stage at D-9 was that AT&T is definitely working on shared data plans. De La Vega wouldn’t comment on when but he said it would be soon. Fierce Wireless reports that Verizon Wireless’ CFO Fran Shammo said that shared data plans were a logical progression.
Towards the end of the interview Mossberg honed in on the supposed or alleged spectrum crunch which is widely believed to be the reason AT&T is hoping to purchase T-Mobile in the first place. Mossberg cited the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) who recently said during their annual convention in Las Vegas that there is no Spectrum Crunch. De La Vega said that there was definitely a crunch coming.
AT&T recently put a bid in to buy the spectrum owned by Qualcomm for their failed Flo TV project. It’s also been reported that wholesale 4G/LTE company, Light Squared is looking to get into a deal for spectrum with AT&T. On top of that it was reported last month that even if the merger goes through AT&T will invest another 8 billion dollars in spectrum.
If you go back to CES and the AT&T developer summit when De La Vega revealed AT&T’s two part strategy to 4G, he stated that they would cover 97% of the country with 4G/LTE back then, mind you this was before both the Qualcomm deal and the proposed buyout of T-Mobile. A question arises then how did they plan on covering 97% of the country before both of those deals. What happens if they don’t get T-Mobile?
During the Q&A at D-9 an audience member asked just that question. After some evading De La Vega responded with Our plan is this:
We still have sufficient spectrum to have a big footprint and cover a major portion of the U.S. in LTE. We’re going to be fine whether the merger happens or not.”
So what’s this AT&T/T-Mobile thing about anyway?