AT&T Says Wi-Fi Is Not Enough, Computing Devices Should Come With 4G

Glenn Lurie is in the fortunate position of being the executive at AT&T who gets to see all the new consumer devices before they have been released to the public.

For the past seven years he has worked with Apple, and today the list of those who send him products includes many other device manufactures, like Amazon and other consumer electronics-makers that build navigation devices or home security systems.

While not exactly a disinterested party, based on what he sees coming in the pipeline, he tells AllThingsD that he is making the case to manufacturers that all computing devices in the future should ship with cellular data connectivity — and that it shouldn’t just be an option.

“Wi-Fi only is not enough,” he said. “We try to look for all the opportunities in the world to get the OEMs to understand that they shouldn’t be building two devices. They should be building one device with Wi-Fi and 4G. It’s more efficient for them than having two [product] lines.”

However, he admits there’s still a lot of education that needs to be done to convince customers that always-on connectivity is what they want, especially if it costs a couple hundred more dollars.

Amazon is one of the manufacturers that has not fully embraced that advice, last week rolling out two new Kindle Fire HD devices, one of which is Wi-Fi only and costs $299. The other costs $499 for Wi-Fi plus AT&T’s 4G network. However, the device does have a first-of-its-kind data plan, which is just enough to get customers introduced to having cellular data as an option, but not enough access for heavy data usage.

The new Kindle Fire HD gives users 250 megabytes a month for 12 months with a one-time payment of $50. It includes 20GB of additional Cloud Drive storage for photos and a $10 Amazon Appstore promotional credit.

“We are always looking for ways to be innovative around the rates and get [customers] to use and buy,” Lurie said.

He said this plan was built specifically for Amazon, but definitely goes a long way toward educating customers on the benefits of having access to their data anywhere.

Of course, AT&T is also the carrier behind Amazon’s original 3G Kindle e-reader, which packages together unlimited e-book downloads with the cost of the device. Customers never get a bill. However, that kind of partnership, where connectivity is hidden, will likely never be available for other more multipurpose devices, like tablets, Lurie said.

“You have a whole different ball game of usage,” he said. But with all the people who love that feature, he added, “it kills me when people still sing the praises of Wi-Fi only.”

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google