Monday, November 26, 2007

The Engadget Interview: Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility

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We recently got a chance to sit down with none other than long time AT&T veteran and freshly anointed CEO of the top wireless carrier in the country, Ralph de la Vega. There was almost too much to discuss, but we were glad to get his take on Android and the Open Handset Alliance (specifically, why AT&T isn't a part of it -- yet), the 700MHz spectrum auction in January, their groundbreaking partnership with Apple, and the many reasons the US wireless market does and doesn't seem to suck so badly. Basically anyone who gives a damn about cellphones or wireless needs to hear what this man has to say.

Thank you very much for meeting with us.

It's my pleasure. My pleasure!

So I am really curious to know what device you carry.

I switch devices every few weeks. Because I think that I need to try the latest device as my customers are trying them, so you'll see me switching. I have now the latest Blackberry, the 8820 with WiFi -- the latest one that came out. When I go back to my office, I have a Q sitting on my desk and my biggest difficulty is making the switch because they each work a little bit different. And so, I punish myself to learn them just because I feel I need to try the devices that my customers are trying. So I've got a whole stack of them and as I get time I just take out the SIM and put the new one in and I go. Because I think that's my duty.

That's actually a pretty admirable way of approaching it, but in terms of preference though, if you could just pick one, what would it be?

Well for business today, the BlackBerry is my preference. For entertainment, the iPhone has no equal. You know, if I'm taking something on a personal vacation that takes my music and my videos, then the iPhone just has no equal.

I'm curious to know if you could tell me a little bit about the role that you played in bringing Apple to AT&T. Starting up their whole deal, getting the iPhone on AT&T -- you know, where you sat.

At the time I was the Chief Operating Officer of Cingular Wireless. I was leading the team that met with Apple to figure out how we could make this work and it was a very, very exciting time. We actually started our relationship with Apple way before the iPhone, but a lot of people have never written about that. And that relationship started when we launched the ROKR, which was the first phone with iTunes -- made by Motorola but certified by us, put into the network with iTunes, which was the first [cellphone] in the country that had iTunes capability. We always viewed that would be something that our customers would want, and the reason we even got started was because all of the philosophy we have, that if the customer wants their music from iTunes, we ought to let them have it from iTunes.

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