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AT&T CEO: Verizon iPhone means volatile first half, but confident about Android

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the launch of Verizon's iPhone may mean a "rocky" and "volatile" first half of 2011, but a bevy of Android devices can pick up the slack.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the launch of Verizon's iPhone may mean a "rocky" and "volatile" first half of 2011, but a bevy of Android devices can pick up the slack. Stephenson also said that AT&T is still selling plenty of iPhones even as Verizon made its launch plans public.

Stephenson made a rare appearance on AT&T's earnings conference call. Typically, Rick Lindner, AT&T's chief financial officer, leads the call. As noted earlier, AT&T is out to show that it can hang as rival Verizon grabs the headlines.

AT&T's big takeaways following its fourth quarter results:

  • The company activated 4.1 million iPhones in the fourth quarter and sales remain solid in recent weeks. The iPhone 3GS at $49.99 has been a hit.
  • AT&T hasn't been aggressive about Android, but that will change in 2011 with a bevy of devices like Motorola's Atrix.
  • More diversification in devices means that AT&T can still grow through any volatility resulting from the iPhone landing at Verizon. Stephenson noted that Research in Motion devices are "doing quite well." Windows Phone 7 devices round out the AT&T portfolio.

On a conference call, Stephenson said losing the iPhone exclusive "make things harder to predict early in the year." However, he argued that AT&T was well positioned and expected momentum in smartphones, tablets and connected devices to continue. "I feel confident we'll be able to grow through the course of the year, but there will be volatility early (as Verizon's iPhone launches)," he said. "It may be rocky in the early part of the year, but we can grow through it. We're bringing Android into the mix heavily this year."

On AT&T's network, Stephenson said he was confident that the company has ironed out its network problems and is on track to roll out LTE. He said:

We've accelerated our LTE deployment. When you combine HSPA Plus with LTE, it's going to result in a much more consistent 4G experience for our customers. Then, on the business side, when you take these mobile broadband capabilities and then layer on cloud and applications-based services, it really begins to let customers mobilize everything they do. So these are all large opportunities; they're scalable opportunities; and they're all early in their growth cycles. As you can see from our results in sales of tablets and connected devices, and in our strong growth rates and strategic business services, we're way out front in each of these areas. Now, while the future mobility will be driven by broadband, mobile voice quality is obviously important. Over the last 45 days, with our vendors finally clearing their backlogs, we brought online a significant amount of new capacity. Our call retainability across the country is up 20 basis points at about 99%. We've seen even greater improvements in Manhattan and San Francisco.

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