On the day before the official start of the Consumer Electronics Show, AT&T Inc. put on a show of its own.
The Dallas-based telecom heavyweight is ready to make a big splash with Android and said Wednesday at an event for mobile software developers that it will launch five phones with Google Inc.''s mobile operating system in the next several months.
One of the phones will come from Round Rock-based Dell Inc., which has already launched its Mini 3 smart phone in China and Brazil; the others will come from Motorola Inc. and HTC.
AT&T chief marketing officer David Christopher said the company needed some time to line up a variety of Android machines at different prices with different features.
We really worked on creating a portfolio of devices, he said.
AT&T also will release two phones built around Palm Inc.''s webOS operating system in the first half of the year, but it didn''t say whether those will be the existing Pre and Pixi, which are now available on Sprint, or new devices.
AT&T offered few details on the upcoming Android phones, but one of them could be a dedicated version of the much-hyped Nexus One phone built by HTC that Google unveiled Tuesday for T-Mobile USA Inc.
The Nexus One, which is already on sale, can currently only run on AT&T''s slower 2G wireless network, not 3G.
Of the five new phones, AT&T said one will be an HTC device exclusive to AT&T.
Once the Android and webOS phones are on shelves, AT&T will be the only wireless carrier in the U.S. to offer all the major smart-phone platforms: Apple Inc.''s iPhone, Android, Research in Motion Ltd.''s BlackBerry, Microsoft Corp.''s Windows Mobile and webOS.
Speaking at the company''s developer summit Wednesday, Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T mobility, said AT&T is ramping up its efforts to make downloadable applications available to all its wireless customers.
About two-thirds of the devices we''re selling today are not smart phones, de la Vega said. That means customers with these phones can''t access the hottest apps on the market. Today, that changes.
The first batch of nonsmart phones to hop on the app train will be quick messaging devices, phones that often have speedy 3G wireless connections but are designed mostly for text messaging and e-mail.
Downloadable apps are predicted to become a business worth as much as $4 billion by 2013, much of that driven by the success of the iPhone.
Apple said Tuesday that iPhone users have downloaded 3 billion apps over the last 18 months, including 1 billion just since September.
But as wireless users flock to high-end phones with fast Internet connections, AT&T''s network has been criticized at times for being unable to keep up with demand. Wireless data downloads on AT&T''s network have increased exponentially since 2006.
John Donovan, AT&T''s chief technology officer, said the U.S. accounts for 7 percent of wireless subscribers in the world but has 21 percent of the 3G users.
But de la Vega said AT&T is performing well and making investments to stay ahead of the surging tide of wireless downloaders. AT&T has begun a speed upgrade for its 3G network – Dallas is one of the first cities to get the boost – and is preparing for the gradual transition to 4G beginning later this year.
De la Vega did not address how AT&T will handle the tiny percentage of its users who download the most data.
Several weeks ago, de la Vega suggested at a conference that AT&T might eventually charge those heavy users higher monthly fees, and critics exploded.
De la Vega was not available for interviews Wednesday after his speech, and other executives declined to comment, but the firestorm did seem to surprise AT&T.
Although AT&T is focused on its 81 million cellphone customers, other mobile devices are also getting attention at the company.
Glenn Lurie, president of the emerging devices division, which includes netbooks and e-book readers, said almost every tech maker at CES this week is thinking of how to wirelessly connect its products to the Internet.
For example, toy makers are working on playthings with software that can be automatically updated over the Web, and medical companies are dreaming of connected gadgets that remind people to take their pills.
You start looking at that business, and it''s billions of dollars, Lurie said.