AT&T's Unity Plan - Size Matters

I haven't had time to blog today as I've been in total catch up mode following PTC. However, I wanted to bring attention to Andy Abramson's insightful post today about AT&T's Unity plan that was just launched.

Andy's headline suggests this is the "worst nightmare" for the MSOs and pureplay VoIP providers, and I think there's a lot of truth to this. AT&T's Unity plan is a great defensive move and is the ultimate FMC deployment, but I'm not sure if it really involves a lot of heavy lifting on the network side. Basically, AT&T is offering a bundle of wireline and wireless voice service, on an unlimited usage basis for domestic calls. It's a great move to retain their wireline customers, and to keep customers in the fold by giving them what they want - lots of affordable talk time for both landline and mobile services.

This is a different kind of a bundle - no triple play - just voice, and it's really simple to understand. Going back to Andy's post, sure, this is a strong counter to the pureplays like Vonage, Packet 8, SunRocket, etc., who have had a lot to do with AT&T's mounting landline losses. More importantly, it's a pre-emptive strike against the MSOs, who are much stronger competitors, not just size-wise, but in terms of service offerings. They've all been working with Sprint/Nextel to get their mobile services to market, and guess what? That's exactly what they announced today. Coincidence - I think not.

So, now all the gloves are off, at least until the fiber buildouts get done. The MSOs had their chance to be first to market here, as AT&T had to get the BellSouth deal approved before launching Unity, so there was a window of exclusivity, and I think they missed it. Regardless, AT&T - via Cingular - has a massive subscriber base, and it's now a game of keep-away. The Unity plan will go a long way toward keeping AT&T's subscribers away from the like of TWC, Cox and Comcast. Can you imagine how this would be playing out if AT&T had kept Comcast???

Botttom line - I've always believed that the ones who own the networks and the subscribers win. AT&T will win out against the VoIP pureplays because they own the network and can simply offer a better quality of service and customer experience. AT&T will also win out against the MSOs because they have the subscribers. The MSOs may have their own networks, but for telecom - esp mobile - they only have a small slice of the subscriber pie. When you have both of these trump cards, plus a combined subscriber base of over 100 million voice customers, I'd say you're in the driver's seat. There was a reason why AT&T was broken up in 1984, and one has to wonder if it will happen again with the way things are going.

So what about VoIP and their CallVantage service? Good question. I'm not sure myself, but Andy has some good ideas, and what he says makes sense to me. And finally, what about Verizon? No doubt, they'll be matching suit with AT&T, making it that much harder for everyone else to get at what was once Ma Bell's crown jewels.

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