Q&A: AT&T’s Kelly King Talks Price Wars, Mobile Industry Evolution

The price battle among wireless providers has heated up in April. Verizon lowered its family plan fee to match AT&T’s package, and Sprint confirmed plans to subsidize early termination fees for customers of other wireless providers who switch to Sprint’s Framily plan, matching a move by T-Mobile. In addition to the tug of war among existing major players, Google is reportedly planning to provide wireless service in places where Google Fiber high-speed internet is already in operation.

“Competition makes it all better,” said Kelly King, president for AT&T’s mobility and consumer markets in the south and central U.S. “The good news is that it’s good for the consumers.” King, a Missouri native and University of Missouri alumnus, spoke at MU on April 3 and visited with Missouri Business Alert afterward, discussing the current landscape of the telecommunications industry and looking ahead to the future for AT&T.

Kelly King, south central president of AT&T, speaks at Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business
AT&T's Kelly King, an MU alumnus, returned to his alma mater to speak on April 3. | Li Lin/Missouri Business Alert

Missouri Business Alert: What are the next business focuses for AT&T?

Kelly King: (One of) the products and services we’ve got right now in the pipeline that we are excited about is AT&T GigaPower, which is a product we launched in Austin, Texas in the fall of last year. We will continue to look at the right growth prospects of that product. The second product that we are excited about is AT&T Digital Life. We think that home automation is a great space for us. … We think we can bring the market and prepare great service to customers that are interested in home automation as well as home security. There’s approximately only 20 percent of the market today that has home security. And almost nobody has home automation. The home automation space is wide open for a company to get involved.

MBA: AT&T announced recently that it is going to hire more than 3,000 retail sales and sales management employees nationwide. How does AT&T plan to boost its retail forces?

KK: In the retail space, we are seeing such a great demand for our products and services. We need to hire some more people because we don’t have enough people in our stores. The announcement is all about putting more people in our stores so that our customers don’t have to wait as long.

It’s a great thing for the economy. It’s a great thing for our customers. And it’s a great thing for AT&T. We will continue hiring to meet the demand of our customers. If that demand continues then we will look at it again and look to create opportunities for folks in the community. So anybody that’s looking for a great job, that retail job is an exciting job that gets your foot in the door.

We are building those new stores right now. Any one of our new stores is going to be built as what we call our new model of store that takes the best attributes from our Chicago Michigan Avenue store. We’ve taken the best elements and those elements are going into all of our new stores. Ours are a little bit different to Apple’s. Ours are designed around taking solutions and demonstrating these solutions to customers in their lifestyles. We will have a fitness or a digital lifestyle. We have a lifestyle around your TV and your living room, a lifestyle around your children, connectivity and wearables. We have sections in our stores where we can demonstrate these products and solutions as they come together to make the customers’ lives better. That’s a little bit different then what you see in other retailers.

MBA: Google claimed it may enter the wireless services market. How does AT&T prepare for that potential challenge?

KK: We have competition on every front in our industry. Whether it’s the wireless industry or the broadband industry, we have new competitors that come into the industry. … You think about text messaging. We’ve seen different types of text messaging platforms. We’ve going to innovate faster and faster. And other companies need to innovate faster and faster. It’s just part of our industry. You will see us in new markets, and other folks will be seen in new markets. So it’s not unusual to see that happen in our industry right now.

We can’t speak for what Google’s going to do. Until they do something, it’s hard to have an opinion on it. It could be anybody getting into the wireless industry. Just a few years ago, remember a company called Nextel? That’s a different company today. If you think of Sprint, they have totally different ownership structure today. Think about T-Mobile, they obviously have a different ownership structure than what they originally had. So things are changing, and I think it will continue to change and evolve.

We are going to stick with our game plan, and our game plan is to deploy U-verse TV and U-verse broadband to reach 75 percent of our households. We are going to continue to move down to the next key of that plan and make investments. … We will continue to upgrade our network and launch our gigabit system and our AT&T GigaPower in Austin, Texas, which we’ve just done. We will look at the right opportunities to expand that service.

MBA: Who are your thoughts on the potential of a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile?

KK: We tried to merge with T-Mobile, and we weren’t allowed to do it. So we are not exactly sure what’s changed that would allow T-Mobile and Sprint to be able do it. But that’s the regulators that will have to make that decision, in the justice department.


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