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CEO: AT&T Wasn’t Ready for iPhone 3G, But Is Pleased with Apple Deal

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson
Randall Stephenson

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson admitted that his company wasn't really ready for the iPhone when it hit the market. He also said that he was pleased with the deal with Apple for the iPhone, and said that the business model benefitted his company.

Mr. Stephenson, who has only been CEO of AT&T for two years, made the comments in an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg Wednesday at this year's D: All Things Digital conference (via John Paczkowski's coverage for the conference's site).

D is an annual conference attended by tech executives and journalists run by The Wall Street Journal and hosted by the Journal's leading tech columnist, Walt Mossberg. It is often the source of insight into what is going on at the upper echelons of the tech industry's leadership.

In his interview with Mr. Stephenson, Mr. Mossberg noted that AT&T wasn't ready for the iPhone 3G's launch and asked what happened. Supplies of the iPhone 3G were short, especially at AT&T's own stores, and there were some initial hiccups in activating phones. Mr. Stephenson acknowledged the rough start, but said, "we're improving."

Mr. Mossberg also asked if the deal with Apple has been worth it. That deal initially rewrote the rules handset makers and carriers followed, though the iPhone 3G brought that model closer to traditional subsidy-based models.

The end-result, according to Mr. Stephenson, is that his company has attracted premium-customers (i.e. those of us willing to pay more for data usage) who are also lower-churn customers (i.e. those who tend to hop from carrier to carrier less).

"It's worked out terrific. We have no complaints," he said. "I'm very pleased with the deal."

He added, "We made a bet that the industry was heading toward smartphones, and that was a good bet. Now we’re seeing dramatic uptakes in usage, so the pricing model must change. And it will change."

He didn't offer any details on how it would change.

Lastly, Mr. Mossberg asked Mr. Stephenson if he had ever approached Apple CEO Steve Jobs to ask him to put a physical keyboard on the iPhone.

According to John Paczkowski's coverage, Mr. Stephenson laughed and said simply, "If Steve wants to put a keyboard on the iPhone, I'm sure he will."

We'll end by asking our readers: Have truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to describing the relationship between Apple CEO Steve Jobs and one of his partner companies?

5 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

deasys said:

According to John Paczkowski’s coverage, Mr. Stephenson laughed and said simply, “If Steve wants to put a keyboard on the iPhone, I’m sure he will.”

Ha! Randall actually gets it. Good for him.


Chuck said:

Error in text of story….Randall Stephenson has been at AT&T/SBC for many many years.  He has been CEO for only two years.  Story sounded like he was a newbie at T.


Bryan Chaffin said:

Thanks for the note, Chuck! I edited the story for better clarity.


Jesse Washkau said:


“Lastly, Mr. Mossberg asked Mr. Stephenson is he had ...”

is = if


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