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AT&T CEO looks toward mobility for growth

Randall Stephenson believes that mobility will accelerate growth in the telecom market, but companies will have to work together to reap the benefits.

LAS VEGAS--Mobility will be the key driver of growth for phone companies in the coming years as they expand their businesses to include new services like TV and broadband, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told attendees at an industry trade show here Tuesday.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Marguerite Reardon/CNET Networks

AT&T and the entire telecom industry have been transforming themselves over the past few years as traditional phone business slowly dies. No longer are these companies simply offering telephony, but they also offer TV, high-speed Internet, and wireless services. But it will be the mobilization of new services that will drive growth for companies in the next few years, Stephenson predicted during his keynote speech at the NxtComm trade show.

He used Monday's U.S. Open final as a perfect example of how mobility is changing usage. Stephenson said that he wasn't able to watch Tiger Woods clinch the U.S. Open golf title on his big screen TV at home, so he watched it on his mobile handset that uses the MediaFlo mobile broadcast TV service offered through AT&T.

He also made historical references to the Sony Walkman cassette player that essentially changed the music industry and made LP records obsolete. The same thing has happened to music yet again with devices like the iPod and now the iPhone, which allow people to take their digitized music on the go and even allow them to get their music wirelessly.

When devices and services are mobilized, Stephenson said, usage of all services shoots up. As an example, he said that even as AT&T's traditional phone business declines, voice minutes are growing 10 percent every year.

"As we mobilize services more things accelerate," he said. "We stimulate economic growth and drive prosperity on a global scale."

And as AT&T and other phone companies grow their video and broadband services, mobility will once again accelerate the market.

Today, roughly 2 billion people connect to the Internet. And by 2011 that number is expected to increase by another billion with most of these new broadband users coming from the developing world. But unlike the first 2 billion Internet users, these new users will access the Net from mobile devices, like Apple's new iPhone, Stephenson said.

With about 80 percent of the world's population living within range of a cell phone network, Stephenson believes the industry is poised for tremendous growth that will impact economies throughout the world.

"These are exciting times to be in this business and the industry," he said. "We are on the verge of an innovation explosion."

But he said that the industry must work through the challenges of a complex ecosystem to ensure the industry can deliver on its promise.

"The opportunity is fleeting in this business," he said. "Markets are moving fast. And not one us has the time for misfires or missed deadlines."