AT&T CEO regrets offering unlimited data, cringes as iMessage steals messaging revenue
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson recently spoke at the Milken Institute's Global Conference, where he voiced his regret for offering unlimited data when the iPhone first came out, and indicated that he worries how apps like iMessage bite into AT&T's traditional messaging revenue streams. Regardless, Stephenson still attributed the iPhone for kick-starting the mobile data business; what's really worth listening to starts at 4:41 in the video, where Stephen describes the story of how the Apple and AT&T exclusive partnership coalesced some two years before it actually came out. He goes on to describe how data usage exploded 20,000% from 2008 when the App Store launched to 2011. Here's what Stephenson had to say specifically about unlimited data and iMessage.
My only regret was how we introduced pricing in the beginning, because how did we introduce pricing? Thirty dollars and you get all you can eat. And it’s a variable cost model. Every additional megabyte you use in this network, I have to invest capital. You lie awake at night worrying about what is that which will disrupt your business model. Apple iMessage is a classic example. If you’re using iMessage, you’re not using one of our messaging services, right? That’s disruptive to our messaging revenue stream.
Although it's less of an issue now, I wonder if Stephenson was more okay with BBM than iMessage, since they got an additional cut from BlackBerry data. Speaking of which, Stephenson also talked a bit about the spectrum crunch and limited bandwidth, which are both issues which RIM's old CEOs aggressively tried to address. Stephenson says that the next block of 50 MHz (which is next to nothing compared to AT&T's demands) will take six to eight years to fully bring into the cellular world.
Here's the full interview, if you've got an hour to kill. It's a really interesting talk, and adds a lot of perspective to the iPhone's early days, as well a bunch of important issues in the wireless industry overall.