A factoid revealed during AT&T’s fourth quarter 2010 earnings announcement stopped me in my tracks. The iconic network operator, which traces its heritage to Alexander Graham Bell, noted that revenues from wireless services in the fourth quarter surpassed wireline revenues—for the first time ever.

What?!!! It took a few minutes for that fact to sink into my clogged brain. When it did, a flood of memories were unleashed.

The legendary company’s “Ma Bell” predecessors provided the cherished telephone lines into a majority of US homes and businesses for decades and, after the historic antitrust case that resulted in the separation of AT&T from its local Bell operating companies, AT&T became the nation’s top long-distance phone service provider. It now gets more revenue from wireless services than it does wireline? Wow. (Not “Wow, I’m shocked this happened,” but more like when you glance at your teenage kid and think, “Wow, wasn’t I just changing your diaper and feeding you a bottle?”)

You see, I spent about 10 years early in my career at upstart MCI Telecommunications, where our sole focus was to dethrone AT&T and, later, stiff-arm the regional Bell companies. The fight centered on those now-nostalgic things known as long-distance services. As the decisive underdog, we fought AT&T tooth-and-nail in a pitched market battle over long distance—the only thing wireless back then was when a backhoe severed a buried phone cable.

We in this industry today are fully aware of the growth of wireless and the tectonic shifts in society and business it has caused; however, a mere 25 to 30 years ago, that was almost unthinkable. We were mortal enemies, the underdog MCI and the established leader AT&T, locked in a heated, daily battle over every one of the nation’s long distance phone lines—something that probably seems to many today as relevant as a cassette player or an ‘80s hair band.

But back then, wireline was everything. It was a rockin’ and rollin’ period in our industry—a time that many of us cherish for its intense competition, ground-breaking marketing strategies and dynamic industry changes.

So for us veterans of the long distance wars (and yes, that’s how the news media portrayed it), AT&T’s news tidbit represents a turning point. Sort of like when your car’s odometer hits 100,000 miles—you know it’s coming, but pretty cool nonetheless. It also showcases the continued growth and maturation of an industry—networking and communications—that will evolve as long as technologies, standards and people do.

We’ve all come a long, long way. And this journey is far from over! What about you? Are there any recent industry statistics or events that have caused you to take a step back and reminisce?

About the Author

Rick Aspan

Rick Aspan, APR, is vice president of Corporate Communications at CommScope. A former journalist, he has more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications functions in the telecom, internet and networking industries at companies such as MCI, Ameritech and Tellabs.

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Industries Wireless

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