Declaring AT&T's GSM network 'open' could be premature

A comment by the CEO of AT&T's wireless division was interpreted to mean the company was following up Verizon Wireless in opening its services to the customer's choice of handsets. But that may not be what he really meant.

"You can use any handset on our network you want," AT&T Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega is quoted by USA Today as having stated, adding later that his company does nothing to police its customers and that has already established itself as the most open of US carriers.

But what de la Vega did not tell USA Today reporter Leslie Cauley could amount to several volumes, especially when compared with last week's stunning announcement by chief competitor Verizon Wireless. Not only is VZW opening up its CDMA network to the customer's choice of handsets, it will be opening its network interface specifications so that any manufacturer can make its CDMA equipment compatible with its network.

If AT&T's de la Vega mentioned his company had any similar plans to make its GSM network specifications generally available, the USA Today reporter did not mention them. Instead, she quoted him as having confirmed that Apple iPhone customers could only purchase their devices through AT&T stores, and only by signing a two-year contract.

The company has issued no formal statement on the affair or planned any announcement conference. And this morning, BetaNews found AT&T's press spokespeople scrambling for an explanation of de la Vega's comments, which may yet be forthcoming.

In an interview last month published by the San Francisco Chronicle, de la Vega said his company has been working to get the word out that it already provides choice to its customers, but for some reason customers may not be getting the complete message.

"We've done some innovative, creative things but somehow we're not getting the credit for it," he told the Chronicle. "And we're going to speak more loudly to that so customers know that we're open to choice, that we've been bringing them all the choices that are important and we'll continue to do so."

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