The importance of wireless applications to the telecommunications future was a common theme running through keynote addresses delivered by the heads of AT&T, Cisco and the Federal Communications Commission this morning at the Nxtcomm convention in Chicago.
The biggest trend in telecommunications, according to newly-appointed AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson, is a migration from fixed services to wireless applications.
"There is a broader notion of mobility," said Stephenson, who said that picking a wireless provider was the most important telecommunications decision consumers make because "it's the most personal."
In that vein, he used the Nxtcomm stage to introduce AT&T Video Share, a new wireless application that lets a mobile phone user transmit a live video stream from their handset's camera to another mobile phone user while engaging in a two-way voice conversation. A commercial showed families and friends sharing live video experiences through their mobile phones.
The Video Share service, which runs on AT&T's 3G wireless network, is initially available in Atlanta, Dallas and San Antonio, and will be rolled out to more markets next month. A $4.99 monthly package provides 25 minutes of Video Share usage, while $9.99 buys 60 minutes of usage. Users may also choose to pay as they go and pay 35 cents a minute each time they use the service. Stephenson says he expects the Video Share capability to reach PC and TV screens in the future.
Stephenson also touted Apple's new iPhone, which will be available exclusively to AT&T wireless subscribers and is due to roll out in 10 days. He said that AT&T has worked hard to transfer the branding of 1800 Cingular retail stores to the AT&T brand in time for the iPhone launch.
"I really believe this is going to be a game-changer," said Stephenson.
Meanwhile, AT&T is continuing to make progress on the ground with its U-verse Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) television service, says Stephenson. While U-verse currently counts less than 50,000 subscribers, AT&T is now performing up to 600 installations a day, says Stephenson, and he expects AT&T to be doing 10,000 installations per week by year-end. The company's plan is to pass some 18 million homes with U-verse capability by the end of 2008.
"Our goal is to have the biggest video footprint of any of our competitors in 22 states," he says.
Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers gave a wide-ranging address focusing on how an increase in collaborative applications through the Internet, as well as a steady surge in video traffic, will drive 300-500% in network growth per year. Chambers, who noted that video traffic is currently pushing sales of large Cisco routers, predicts that the broadband traffic from just 20 U.S. homes in 2010 will be more than the traffic of the entire Internet backbone in 1995.
Chambers gave several demonstrations of what Cisco brands as the "connected life," such as a consumer listening to an Eagles song in his car, then picking up where he left off on a mobile handset, and then finally finishing the experience by watching a high-definition video of the same song when he hit the living room, with all the applications running as part of a single network. Another demo showed a fan watching a hi-def baseball game while messaging with a friend over fantasy baseball scores and then buying tickets to a game, all through the TV screen interface.
For his part, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin gave a demonstration of the power of 21st- century telecommunications networks by remotely participating, via a live video link from Washington, in a keynote Q&A session with the heads of the two trade groups running Nxtcomm, USTelecom president and CEO Walter McCormick and TIA president Grant Sieffert. Martin, who was unable to make the trip to Chicago because he is awaiting the imminent birth of his second child, continued to promote his theme of providing ubiquitous broadband access to America.
He said that freeing up wireless spectrum for broadband use, such as through the auction of 700 megahertz spectrum that the FCC is due to complete next year, will help achieve that goal.
"Enabling consumers to take advantage of wireless broadband is critical," says Martin, who also suggested that Universal Service Fund policy should be changed from subsidizing voice service in rural markets to subsidizing new broadband networks.
Not surprisingly, Martin also used the venue of Nxtcomm to send another shot over the bow of the cable industry, which Martin has frequently criticized for its price increases and for not providing a suitable diversity of programming choices and packages. Martin said that while other telecommunications services have dropped their prices, "consumers have seen cable rates double," which gives the FCC ample incentive to encourage new entrants into the video market, such as phone companies.
"We need to make sure we do all we can to facilitate video competition," said Martin.