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Big Phone to US: 'Give us spectrum. Then shut up'

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The US may be number one in wireless broadband, but to stay on top it needs more spectrum and less regulation.

That's the opinion of a pair of AT&T execs speaking Tuesday at the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Wireless, was unabashed in his assertion that the US is the top mobile broadband country in the world. As PC World reports, de la Vega told the keynote crowd that the US has 117 million 3G subscribers, edging out number-two Japan's 110 million, and that 53 million smartphones will be sold in the US this year, more than double the 25 million to be sold in number-two China.

He also noted that the US is number one in application sales, with 1.1 billion apps downloaded in 2009 - although he neglected to detail how many of those were iPhone fart apps.

But despite de la Vega's puffy-chested sense of global dominance, he sees clouds on the horizon - clouds whose dispersal will require immediate action.

Although he praised the US Federal Communication Commission's recent decision to provide 500 more megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband, Reuters quoted de la Vega as darkly adding: "It will likely be years before the spectrum is available even if the FCC acts at a record pace" - which is not exactly a masterful bit of analysis, since the FCC has already said that won't free-up the first 300MHz until 2015, with another 200MHz not due until 2020.

Despite the salubrious effect of those coming megahertz, the alleviation of wireless broadband congestion can't wait, says de la Vega. As PC Magazine reports, Mr Mobility said that immediate efforts are needed in Wi-Fi, femtocells, and 4G. In AT&T's case, that last one would be LTE and not the WiMAX efforts of Sprint/Clearwire, which is scheduled to cover 120 million Americans by the end of this year, just as LTE is getting off the ground.

"Complementary technologies help the industry enhance our footprint and take the cost out of the network while enhancing the customer experience," de la Vega said in quintessential marketing-speak.

PC Magazine also reported that AT&T's chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking after de la Vega, offered the thoroughly unsurprising opinion that the spectrum release should be "unencumbered by regulation".

Regulation might scare away investors, said Stephenson: "We can't afford to mess this up at this stage; [we] can't stand for actions that would discourage high levels of investment."

And that US dominance? From the AT&T headman's point of view: "We get this right and the US leads the world in productivity and innovation. If we get it wrong, we've squandered our greatest hope for global leadership." ®

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