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Interview: AT&T’s De La Vega on LTE, Tablets and Life After T-Mobile

AT&T had a busy year in 2011. It announced — and then dropped — plans to buy T-Mobile USA. It launched its first LTE service and saw increased iPhone competition from Verizon and Sprint.

The company kicked off 2012 by announcing six new Android devices, all running on LTE, as well as new LTE-capable Windows phones from HTC and Nokia.

Moments after he left the stage, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega sat down with AllThingsD to talk about a wide range of issues facing his company, various mobile device makers and the industry as a whole.

Here’s an edited look at what he had to say.

On the failure of the T-Mobile deal and where AT&T goes from here:

We’re very pleased that the FCC approved our purchase of the Qualcomm spectrum. We’ll be working to put that into play as quickly as possible. And we are always going to be on the lookout for new spectrum that comes on the market. We hope that the FCC also makes more spectrum available.

We’ve put that behind us and we are moving on to have a great 2012.

On BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which was notably missing from AT&T’s announcement on Monday:

BlackBerry has got some interesting things coming up. I’m encouraged by some of the things that I understand they are bringing to market.

BlackBerry has been a great partner and, you know, people love their devices. They love the keyboards. I think they are working on all of the things customers want. I am very pleased with, at least, the things that are on their roadmap. As soon as they can get them I think they are going to have a lot of customers knocking on their door.

On Motorola, which was also absent from AT&T’s Vegas announcements:

They are going to have some exciting stuff. They are just not ready to announce them with us. It’s really early in the year.

On Sony’s future in the smartphone market:

As you know, they bought out the Ericsson interest. I think they are going to have a more focused approach and put what I call more “Sony-ness” into their smartphones. We’ve met with their team and I am very encouraged.

On whether AT&T will offer fewer tablets this year after so many iPad rivals failed to make a dent in the market:

I think you are going to see us find models that have a particular differentiated approach to the tablet market. Obviously Apple sets the bar with the iPad, so Pantech is now looking at a very low-end device, still a great device, but I think that kind of distinction is what customers want.

On why the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note might stand a chance:

That’s the first hybrid device that tries to fill in a niche between a tablet and a smartphone. I’ve been using that device and it is, surprisingly, an amazing device. I didn’t understand whether we were going to be able to make that transition work, but you ought to try it. I think you will get hooked on it.

I think it is for somebody that wants to make it their primary device and doesn’t want to carry around a tablet as well. It’s surprisingly thin. It fits in your pocket.

That’s an iconic device. It’s exclusive to us. We’re going to put a lot of marketing effort behind it.

On whether we will see LTE phones that work across multiple carriers even though the first devices don’t support that.

The first ones are done that way because of technology limitations. How many antennas can you squeeze into one of those things? It’s the first generation. As the technology matures, you will incorporate more bands into the devices. I think you will have as many bands as customers are going to want. It’s not inexpensive, but I think technology will allow us to do that at a reasonable price.


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