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It was Mark Twain who noted that names are not always what they seem. Take AT&T, for example, the acronym for the “American Telephone & Telegraph” company, although we’re not so sure whether many consumers actually remember that. Partially because they’ve used “AT&T” for a long, long time, but mostly because telegraph via wires disappeared in the very early 20th century thanks to Marconi, and traditional telephones gave way to cellphones and smartphones, thanks to Motorola in the early 1970’s.

But today – given consumer trends – the AT&T acronym would be better translated as “American Telephone & Tablet” company, because according to reports of 3rd Quarter growth, consumers buying data plans to support tablets are fueling AT&T’s net subscriber growth, which is good news. But from a bottom-line basis, consumers who just buy data plans bring in less revenue, which is not such good news.

The trend has been reflected in what drives the Wireless Carrier category. According to our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, the category that was once driven by “Brand Reputation and Technological Leadership” has shifted to “Equipment,” with tablets at the top of the list of technology consumers crave most. And “A Selection of Calling Plans” has changed to “Data Options,” including elements like daily data options for tablets and lower-data plans for smartphones. What hasn’t changed are consumer desires for “Larger/Faster/Uninterrupted Networks” and “Customer Service.”

As this is technology we’re talking about, it’s not surprising to find that consumers have very high expectations regarding delivery on these drivers, but particularly when it comes to “Data Options.” If we calculate the consumer Ideal at 100%, here’s how the wireless carriers’ own customers currently evaluate the major brands in meeting their expectations:

  1. Verizon Wireless 89%
  2. AT&T Wireless 83%
  3. Sprint 80%
  4. T-Mobile 79%

While AT&T added more contract customers than it lost, most were for tablets. To combat that shift, they’ve added a range of plans for smartphones; $40.00 for 450 minutes of voice calling plus added costs for data usage and texts, upwards of $100.00 for 2 gigabytes of data, plus unlimited calling and texting. But as consumers can get 3 gigabytes of data for their tablets, as low as $30.00 a month, you don’t need a calculator app on your tablet to do that math and see what is (and isn’t) more lucrative for the carrier.

It was technology columnist, Walt Mossberg, who said, “After spending hours with it (the iPad), I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop.”

And apparently the primacy of contract calling customers for wireless carriers, too.

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