AT&T Guns For the Quad-Play


AT&T, facing tough cable competition and economic uncertainty, has rejiggered itself into four units: consumer, business, technology operations and other businesses.

The move unites wireless and wireline go-to-market strategy and execution under wireless chief Ralph de la Vega — a clear sign AT&T wants to push wireless into the multiplay bundle.

"We believe [residential] trends are likely to weaken further in 2H as cable companies get more aggressive and the economy worsens," UBS telecommunications analyst John Hodulik wrote in a research note today. "We expect AT&T’s new structure to result in new efforts to bundle wireline voice/video/data services with wireless, fulfilling the company’s promise of the ‘three screens’ approach."

Continued Hodulik: "Effective wireless bundling in the resi mkt would have the biggest impact on cable… The previous framework, where wireless and wireline had separate P&Ls and reporting lines, was unlikely to lead to the type of collaboration required for AT&T to fully leverage the advantage AT&T Mobility offers relative to cable competitors." 

The key word being "effective." 

Past efforts to foist a quad-play on consumers have gone nowhere. For example, the Sprint-cable venture with Pivot was supposed to link mobile phone service into the triple play, but the parties folded their tents after the MSOs complained that basically nobody wanted a me-too service.

The fourth wheel of a quad play is in a different layer in the network "stack." Wireless is a physical network infrastructure, whereas the other legs of the triple-play stool are services that (typically) ride on a wireline network.

Can AT&T put together something that ties together wireless, TV, wireline phone and Internet in a compelling way? Unless you’re talking about pricing a discounted quad-play bundle, I remain skeptical. 

The telco has demo’d some prototypes of wireless device integration with U-verse TV. Two weeks ago at a media briefing in New York, AT&T execs showed off the ability to use an Apple iPhone as a TV remote and also “sideloaded” programs to the device from a U-verse DVR.

That’s sorta neat. It’s sorta different. Is it a competitive advantage? We’ll see.