AT&T Mobility CEO On Hot Seat At Fortune Brainstorm

Fortune’s Stephanie Mehta asked Ralph De la Vega, President & CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, if his relationship with Apple has been a net positive or negative experience. Not surprisingly, De la Vega says it was a tremendous net positive.

“We carry about half of the mobile data in this country on our network today,” he says. “We have a great relationship with Apple…from the CEO on down.”

Mehta asks “What will a post exclusivity world look like for AT&T?” De la Vega says he’s not particularly worried. AT&T had exclusivity on the Motorola RAZR when it was the hot phone five years ago, and that they did fine after exclusivity ended.

“Why are there so many dropped calls?” says Mehta. De la Vega says you need three things for a good user experience – high speed mobile broadband network, smartphones and applications. He says AT&T is getting better at dealing with data surges, and there have been “nice improvements” over the last couple of years.

Mehta asked Vega if there are too many mobile operating systems today. De la Vega says they want to carry them all and let the consumers decide.

The most interesting part of the conversation – Mehta points out that a few years ago the U.S. lagged the rest of the world in mobile, but that today the U.S. is in a leadership position. De la Vega agrees, saying that investment in mobile infrastructure means that phones now tend to launch in the U.S. first now instead of being a year behind the rest of the world. But he also says “spectrum is the lifeblood of the industry, and to keep this economy fueled there must be enough spectrum.” He says there will be a wave of change where we’ll see more cloud based applications, particularly in the enterprise, than downloaded apps.

Jason Hirschhorn, former MySpace co-president, asks a question from the audience, saying that too many calls are dropped on his iPhone. He asks how AT&T views the problem, and also asks why AT&T is charging for the MicroCell. De la Vega says that dropped calls have gone down dramatically. They’ve doubled their capacity in the last three months in New York, he says, and it has helped. And AT&T is testing a variety of prices, including free, for the MicroCell.