AT&T Mobility CEO: "you can use any handset on our network you want." Hmm, let's look a little closer at that

As of right this minute, AT&T Mobilitysubscribers will be able to use any wireless phone or device from any manufacturer. Or can they?
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor on

As of right this minute, AT&T Mobility

subscribers will be able to use any wireless phone or device from any manufacturer.


Or can they?


A de facto flavor of this policy has existed for years, but has not been promoted by AT&T until now. AT&T Mobility store salespeople are now being encouraged to mention this.


"You can use any handset on our network you want," Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's wireless business," tells USAToday's Leslie Cauley. "We don't prohibit it, or even police it."


What's kind of confusing in Leslie's article is whether or not this changes the game in terms of whether or not you will still have to sign a contract to use such gear over AT&T Mobility's network. In the first paragraph of her piece, Leslie uses the phrase, "don't have to sign a contract. " But later in her piece, she writes:

Despite its bear hug of "open" standards, one AT&T device, for now, will remain tightly closed: the Apple iPhone.

AT&T has a deal with Apple to be the exclusive U.S. distributor for the next five years. To get the device, consumers must sign a two-year contract.

AT&T has no plans to change that arrangement, de la Vega says. "The iPhone is a very special, innovative case."


Leslie sounds confused. She might be associating and contradicting iPhone's "closed" nature with that of other devices- AT&T sanctioned or no.

Go ahead and read her article again. Maybe I am caffeine-defiient this a.m. but the way Leslie articulates these points, it makes it sound that AT&T Mobility is putting the kibash on all contracts but for iPhone. Ain't gonna happen, people.

But I think what Leslie really meant to write is that if you use a non AT&T Mobility device on your existing AT&T Mobility extension, then you won't have to sign a contract to do so.

Such "openness" utterances on the part of AT&T Mobility bring out the finely honed moo goo detector of Engadget's top editor, Ryan Block:

Nothing has changed between yesterday and today, and, as de la Vega told us a couple of weeks ago, AT&T customers can continue expect the status quo from the nation's largest carrier in terms of their level of openness and flexibility. Granted, it's one thing for Verizon to say they're going wide open (especially being ridiculously closed CDMA carrier they are), but it's quite another for AT&T to lay claims as though it's somehow more open than any other carrier in the world when that argument comes as an extension of its core network technology.


Yes, you can take your AT&T SIM, put it in an unlocked device, and run it on their network without much hassle -- but that doesn't make AT&T any more "open" than the final-say testing facility Verizon intends to use in "openly" making approvals (and disapprovals) of devices and software.

Good people can debate this issue. However I agree with Leslie that AT&T Mobility's apparently new willingness to talk openness is being driven at least in part by Google's recently announced plans to work with wireless companies such as Sprint in order to let customers develop an operating system that would enable consumers to use any app on their mobile.


I find it hard to argue against the notion that Verizon Wireless' new move toward openness obviously has influenced AT&Ts stated direction toward openness as well.

Editorial standards