Interview: Ritch Blasi, AT&T Wireless Services

Ritch Blasi, Director of Media Relations, AT&T Wireless Services (2002)

Ritch Blasi, Director of Media Relations, AT&T Wireless Services (2002)

AT&T is one of three major US network operators commited to GSM evolution. It launched its GPRS network in selected markets earlier this year and has since rolled out m-Mode, a mobile internet service inspired by DoCoMo’s i-Mode (NTT DoCoMo owns a 16% stake in AT&T Wireless), to its GSM customers. AT&T has also recently launched picture messaging using the SonyEricsson T68i and CommuniCam accessory. Ritch Blasi is Director of Media Relations.


How long have you allowed for the build-out of your GSM/GPRS network? Were there any particular challenges?

In October of 2000, when we announced our move to GSM/GPRS, we said deployment would begin in July 2001 with a national network built by the end of 2002. I believe we’re ahead of schedule and on budget to meet our commitment. In the meantime, AT&T Wireless acquired Telecorp and its properties. We expect to overlay that network with GSM/GPRS by the middle of 2003.

The only real challenge we faced at launch concerned the availability of handsets and devices. That is no longer a concern as most major device manufacturers continue developing products designed for GSM/GPRS before other technologies.

Did you consider the CDMA2000 evolution path or were you locked into GSM by your existing TDMA infrastructure?

We looked at all technologies and decided the global scale of GSM and its evolutionary path to true 3G provided significant technological and financial incentives for AT&T Wireless and our customers. For example, customers would have access to high quality, less expensive handsets and devices, more data applications and services such as international roaming.

What lessons were you able to learn from DoCoMo’s i-Mode when creating your own m-Mode service?

The need to really focus on customers needs and market directly to those needs. Providing customers with easy to use features, multiple devices, affordable pricing and lots of cool applications were what made i-Mode service successful – and what we incorporated into our m-Mode service. Additionally, giving content providers the ability to use AT&T Wireless to bill for their services enables them to concentrate on enhancing the customer experience – whether its adding features to games or making m-commerce as easy as buying over-the-counter merchandise.

How have you reflected the cultural differences of the US market?

From a services perpsective, many of the services offered with i-Mode and m-Mode are similar – focusing on messaging, entertainment and information services. There are specific applications that sell in Japan that would not translate in the US. In the US, people want to do certain thing wirelessly. Accessing e-mail, playing games and checking news and stocks have continued be the main services being used.

Do you see a role for AT&T as a content provider or will you be working to enable third party developers on m-Mode, as DoCoMo has done with i-Mode?

We think DoCoMo has the right solution here. AT&T Wireless works with third party developers to enable them to concentrate, develop and enhance the features of their services using our higher speed wireless network as the delivery mechanism. Additionally, we will soon provide several platforms for content developer to use for developing new content.

As I mentioned, we already give content providers the ability to use AT&T Wireless for billing. Many smaller developers don’t have a way to bill our subscribers for using their services and this gives them the ability to do so.

How closely do you work with handset manufacturers to develop products which meet the requirements of your service aspirations?

Very closely. This is true for everything from developing location-based services to phones with dual browser capabilities, colour screens, polyphonic ringtones, etc.

You recently launched picture messaging using the T68i handset and CommuniCam. How successful has this been so far?

While we don’t break out specifics on sales, early indications are that the service is doing better than expected and, for a new technology and service, that’s very satisfying. It’s a cool accessory and when you combine that with the ease of sending a photo to any e-mail address in the world, it’s a much wanted accessory. We expect other wireless phones with photo capabilities to be available shortly.

Originally published by PMN Mobile Industry Intelligence, the subscription-based analysis and insight platform founded by Marek Pawlowski.

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