#TBT: AT&T rebrands from Cingular; Chasing mobile music; Capex flattens before 4G transition … this week in 2007

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

AT&T gets BlackBerry Curve, works on rebranding from Cingular
It’s official: Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Curve is available at AT&T Mobility. Price is $200, with two-year contract and mail-in rebate. The quad-band device rides on AT&T Mobility’s EDGE network.
Any doubts that RIM-known for its productivity-oriented, e-mail slabs-has gotten the fashion message is dispelled by a joint press release that describes the device as “fashioned in liquid silver finish with chrome highlights, smooth edges and soft curves.” RIM and AT&T Mobility tout the device as the smallest and lightest full QWERTY BlackBerry. The device offers multimedia and messaging capabilities, a 2 megapixel camera and a slew of voice enhancements (noise-cancellation, speaker-independent voice recognition for voice-activated dialing). In-box accessories include a stereo headset, travel charger and USB cable. Meanwhile, AT&T Inc. continues its acceleration of transitioning away from the Cingular brand; the company has revamped Cingular.com into an AT&T-branded site. Instead of reaching the old Cingular.com site, users who type in the address will find themselves at wireless.att.com, with the same architecture as the recently overhauled Cingular site. … Read more

Chasing music on mobile
Whether it’s through a transistor radio, a Walkman or an iPod, on-the-go music has an impressive track record as a business model. But when it comes to revenues from full-track downloads, their may be little room on the dance floor for carriers. Mobile music sales-generally comprising ringtones, ringback tones and full-track downloads-are expected to surge in the next few years, exploding from a $1 billion global industry last year to $7.3 billion in 2011, according to eMarketer. More than 50 million U.S. consumers will generate more than $1 billion in mobile music revenues in 2010, IDC predicts, as wireless music services threaten to surpass their online counterparts in overall sales. Where operators fit in the value chain-if they fit in at all-is far from clear, however. Carriers and content providers have cashed in on the ringtone craze, of course, convincing users to pay a few dollars for a 30-second clip of popular tunes. And while many believe sales have plateaued-the publishing firm BMI projects a $50 million drop-off in ringtone revenues this year from 2006-ringback tones have quietly continued to gain steady traction. But full-track downloads, which have long been viewed as a potential cash cow for both operators and music labels, have been slow to find an audience. Instead of paying a premium to carriers such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. for over-the-air downloads, subscribers are opting to sideload tunes from their existing libraries onto new, music-friendly handsets, according to a new report from iSuppli Corp. … Read more

Consumers hang onto handsets longer — but it’s due to contracts
Longer contracts are pushing American consumers to keep their handsets longer, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates. The average length of ownership of a particular handset has increased for the first time in five years, to 17.5 months from the 16.6 months reported in November 2006. The market analysis firm said that subscribers tend to hold onto their handsets due to the now-standard two-year contract and to avoid onerous service-termination fees when switching service, which may lead to lower renewal rates. … Read more

Has consumer growth peaked?
With domestic wireless penetration nearing 80%, signs of slowing customer growth may be beginning to show. The nation’s four largest carriers brought in fewer customers in the first quarter of this year than in the same quarter of the past three years, posting about 4.1 million net customer additions this year. During the last five years, the numbers peaked in 2006 with the top four carriers bringing in 5.7 million net additions in the first quarter. The 2007 figure was roughly on par with 2004’s 4.2 million net customer additions. It’s probably too early to tell if the dip in growth is just a temporary blip or evidence of a plateau for industry growth, but the next few quarters should shed light on the situation.
“I don’t really think it’s a blip. I think high penetration is definitely starting to kick in in the market,” said Current Analysis analyst Weston Henderek. Even so, Henderek added, the industry “still has a ways to go” in terms of growth.
“There’s definitely going to be some leveling off,” Henderek said. “I don’t think you’re going to see big drop-offs, but you’re not going to see the kind of never-ending increases like you did . when the market penetration was still relatively low.” … Read more

Carrier capex flattens before 4G transition
In the midst of a lull between completing the buildout of 3G networks and beginning work on next-generation networks, U.S. telecom companies are expected to keep their wireless capital spending mostly flat this year as they figure out how to better sell applications to profit off their current networks before plunging ahead to build new ones. If anything, telecom companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are talking more about their progress in expanding wireline fiber networks, pursuing video offerings and IP-based network infrastructure-as opposed to foaming at the mouth over the next generation of wireless evolution. Not that the operators are standing idle in relation to their wireless networks-they can’t, when network quality messages have become so important to their marketing efforts. AT&T Mobility is still working on pushing its HSDPA coverage into the top 100 markets. Both Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. are busily upgrading their mobile broadband networks from CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Revision 0 to Rev. A. Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel is the only carrier to have committed to a next-generation standard and plans to spend about $800 million this year deploying its WiMAX network. In examining trends among 15 global operators that account for more than 60% of wireless capital spending, analyst Dan Locke of Pyramid Research found that the rate of capex spending is expected to grow fastest in emerging markets such as India and Africa. In those markets, operators are “kind of starting from scratch. They have to buy base stations and things which are the most expensive” to get their networks up and running, according to Locke. Meanwhile, more mature markets such as Europe and the U.S. are seeing wireless capital expenditures flatten, especially where carriers have already made the bulk of their 3G investments and are concentrating on upgrades, which mostly require software and minimal hardware, Locke said. … Read more

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.

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