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AT&T bets big on Microsoft-Nokia alliance and Windows Phone

In an interview with CNET, the CEO of AT&T's mobility and consumer business, Ralph de la Vega, says the company will get behind Microsoft and Nokia.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
4 min read

Ralph de la Vega has a lot to say about Microsoft-Nokia and Windows Phone. Except for the name of the actual device.

AT&T executive Ralph de la Vega during its developer summit conference this year. Corinne Schulze/CNET

Due to a quirk in the conference schedule, AT&T couldn't actually talk earlier today about the big, new 4G LTE smartphone from Microsoft and Nokia, the Lumia 900 (also known as Ace). The companies are planning to formally unveil the device later today at a conference hosted by Nokia.

As a result, de la Vega was left touting the benefits of the phone in an interview with CNET, without actually specifically naming it.

"The platform has matured, the hardware has matured, and the new OS release is state of the art," de la Vega said today. "It's shored up every one of my concerns."

Expect AT&T to back Microsoft and Nokia in a big way, more so than the initial launch of Windows Phone a little more than a year ago. De la Vega likes to talk about firsts, and he was eager to boast that his carrier would be the first to get a 4G LTE Windows Phone from Nokia.

"We're going to get behind them," he said. "We want to see them be successful."

De la Vega said he likes to bet on people, and he is betting on Nokia CEO Stephen Elop. De la Vega added he believes Elop will be successful in turning Nokia around. He added that when he asked Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to get 4G LTE on its first U.S. device, the two were quick to respond.

In late 2010, when Microsoft unveiled its first Windows Phone lineup, AT&T was there as a supportive partner. But aside from a bit of marketing, AT&T didn't really promote the devices, instead focusing on the iPhone and Android handsets. This year, de la Vega said Microsoft has taken care of its issue with the lack of applications (it recently crossed the 50,000 mark), improved its software, and has impressive hardware with vendor partners like Nokia.

De la Vega will appears with Elop and Ballmer at the Nokia press conference to formally show off the phone.

At this year's press conference, AT&T did have on display the HTC Titan 2, the LTE version of the HTC Titan that was revealed by HTC CEO Peter Chou, who took the stage with de la Vega and Ballmer.

De la Vega wouldn't say how much AT&T plans to spend to promote these devices, but said it would be a collaborative effort with Microsoft and Nokia. He dismissed concerns that the partnership it has with the two companies may leave other handset manufacturers with a Windows Phone product--like HTC--out in the cold. He added that the company would get more Windows Phone devices in the hands of salespeople in the stores, an issue that has hurt the product in the past.

Further augmenting its 4G LTE lineup are three budget-friendly devices, including two smartphones from Samsung and Pantech that will retail for less than $50 with a two-year contract. The other, a waterproof tablet from Pantech, will retail for $300, or $250 when bundled with the 4G LTE Pantech smartphone.

De la Vega said more affordable phones--particularly LTE ones--are a major initiative for AT&T. The company is looking to get more users on 4G LTE because of the competitive pressure, the need to alleviate traffic on the more congested 3G network, and the more efficient properties of 4G.

One 4G LTE phone that won't be coming out soon is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. De la Vega wouldn't comment on the device, only saying stay tuned.

Also not coming soon is the notion of a shared family plan for data. The carriers have long talked about offering such a plan to accommodate multiple devices, but de la Vega said it is taking longer than expected because of the complications of working with the IT and billing system.

"We want to make sure we get it right," he said.

He wouldn't specify when it would be available, but said AT&T is working as quickly as possible.

De la Vega also weighed in on the aftermath of the collapse of the AT&T-T-Mobile deal. He said he was pleased with the Federal Communications Commission's approval of the acquisition of Qualcomm's spectrum, and said the company has put the failed acquisition behind it.

AT&T would continue to look for spectrum, but didn't provide specific details on its plans. He declined to comment when asked about the possibility of buying companies with spectrum, such as Dish Network. He added the FCC needed to work quickly to free up spectrum and said he believes the regulators are aware of the shortage issue.