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Ralph de la Vega 'laughs' when asked about AT&T iPhone exclusivity expiration date, says most customers will stay

Nilay Patel
05.19.10
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We still have no idea what's going on with Apple, Verizon, and the iPhone, but it sounds like AT&T isn't sweating it -- speaking at a J.P. Morgan conference today, Ralph De La Vega reportedly "just laughed" when asked when Ma Bell's iPhone exclusivity would run out, and indicated he wasn't worried about other carriers potentially getting the phone. According to Ralph, some 80 percent of AT&T iPhone customers are on family or business plans, and they're generally less likely to switch, so AT&T thinks it can hang onto them if Apple's phone hits another carrier. That certainly sounds like AT&T's been giving the issue some thought -- another piece of kindling for our ever-smoldering Verizon iPhone Rumor Fire, or just tough talk to keep Apple in line? We might never know -- but we do know that it'll be much harder to keep those iPhone customers if AT&T's service quality continues to suffer, and Ralph acknowledged the troubles, saying that AT&T's biggest issue right now is simply getting enough equipment built in China and put into place. We'll see what happens -- we're not going to believe that a Verizon iPhone is real until Steve asks if we can hear him now.

Update: AT&T just sent us a tiny snippet of de la Vega's comments:
Having said that, all the improvements that we have seen are not just driven by the iPhone. The non-iPhone customer churn has seen the same reductions as the overall total postpaid customer churn improvement levels. So we've seen improvements in churn that are driven by the iPhone and by non-iPhone customers. And so we view that having a great portfolio of devices and services has been the key to our success and will continue to be. And I think the iPhone will be a part of our portfolio. And I think that customers are still going to come to us, like they've done in the past, looking for great choices, great devices and great services.
Interesting -- it certainly doesn't sound like he's betting too heavily on keeping the iPhone exclusive, but we'd like some more context here. We're looking for the full transcript (or better yet, video), so stay tuned.

Update 2: And here's the followup question specifically regarding exclusivity:
Q: I thought you might share with us the exclusivity end date, Ralph.
A: No, I don't think I'm going to be able to do that, Mike. (laughs)
Pithy!

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