Ina Fried

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CTIA Notebook: So Where Were You When the ATT News Hit?

It’s both the icebreaker for conversations and the topic that no one wants to talk about.

Meet up with anyone in Orlando for CTIA and the first topic is likely to be where you were on Sunday when you first heard about AT&T’s plan to buy T-Mobile.

For answers, I’ve heard everything from cooking to napping to arm-deep in Play-Doh. Nearly all of T-Mobile USA’s PR team was on a plane to Orlando when the news broke. HTC North America head Jason Mackensie was watching his son play at a basketball tournament in Texas when his phone started buzzing with messages from co-workers, as well as folks from both carriers.

But, seek to discuss the topic of the merger in detail and few will comment.

Samsung Mobile Senior Vice President Omar Khan had to be pressed to answer whether he was surprised or not. Eventually, Khan admitted he was surprised, but declined any further comment on the deal. Many other executives and non-executives followed suit, most notably FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski–one of the people whose opinion matters the most.

“Of course you will understand I am not going to comment on that,” he said during an on-stage appearance.

Those that do offer up a comment usually characterize it as good news or business as usual.

“The fortunate thing is we’ve got good relationships with both companies,” Mackenzie said.

Oddly enough, the people most willing to talk are those closest to the deal. Sprint is vocally concerned, while Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead says that he isn’t going to get distracted and assumes the deal will probably go through.

“I do have concerns that it would stifle innovation and too much power would be in the hands of just two,” Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said during a keynote in which he shared the stage with Mead and AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega.

Mead, meanwhile, appeared unshaken. “We have a tremendous amount of competition in the industry,” he said, adding that the industry will go through continued change, such as the AT&T purchase. “I’m not concerned about it.”

For everyone else in the industry, it is both the thing on everyone’s mind and the topic no one is quite ready to discuss.


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