AT&T may lose iPhone exclusivity, CEO admits

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson admitted his company may not be the only phone company selling the Apple (AAPL) iPhone in the future.

"There will be a day when you're not exclusive with the iPhone," Stephenson said today at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Pasadena, California. When that day comes, he said, "I'm sure that will be in Apple's interests, and ours also."
Stephenson, in a separate interview with DailyFinance after his time onstage, said AT&T's "data network behaves differently with the load of demand [from iPhone users] that's being put on the network."

I asked Stephenson to address the groundswell of anger among iPhone users about AT&T's poor network quality. He said he is putting the network to the most drastic tests possible when he travels to large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco. He "abuses" his phone as much as he can, with Web surfing, app using, and e-mailing -- "I beat those phones up," he said. When there's a problem, he calls his service-support team and gets them to fix it. "I'm on it like a hawk," he told DailyFinance.

Stephenson admitted that the amount of Web usage by iPhone owners challenges the AT&T network. Indeed, I own an iPhone, but I never recommend it to my peers, I told him, because the network quality can be poor. That got his attention, and he discussed it further.

"I bang the hell out of those devices," he told me. "I'm probably the most expensive drive test the company has out there." Good to know that Stephenson is on the case, because AT&T activated 2.4 million iPhones, the company said today.

Can he do enough to get Apple to re-up its contract when it expires? Probably not, as he hinted in his statement above. iPhones may eventually be sold at Verizon (VZ) stores and elsewhere. But Stephenson is trying hard to retain the customers AT&T has added since it started selling the iPhone.

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.
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