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Friday, December 18, 2009, 12:45 pm PT (03:45 pm ET)

AT&T exec attempts to cool rumors of tiered iPhone data plans

An AT&T executive this week made comments to assure customers that the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.S. will not implement tiered data plans.

The comments from Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of mobility and consumer markets, came just a week after the AT&T official said the company would likely provide incentives to encourage bandwidth-hogging customers to "reduce or modify their usage." What kind of incentives were never made clear, though de la Vega said it is inevitable that high-bandwidth users will be charged for what they consume.

Those comments fueled speculation that the company could move away from its current unlimited data plan available for iPhone users. But in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, de la Vega said his company has no intentions to do so.

"We have not made any decision to implement tiered pricing," he reportedly said.

Instead, AT&T plans to make more free Wi-Fi hotspots available for mobile customers. The feature was introduced last year to great success. Following the introduction of iPhone OS 3.0, AT&T saw 15 million users connect to its Wi-Fi network in one quarter alone this year. The company offers more than 20,000 hotspots.

AT&T also noted it is investing in "femtocells" that use a home Internet connection and serve as a mini cellular tower. That product was tested earlier this year in Charlotte, N.C. The device reportedly offers 3.2Mbit/sec 3G service to users in their home.

Through both of these methods, AT&T hopes it can relieve some of the pressure on its network that has caused issues. Issues with dropped calls and spotty reception have led to bad publicity for the carrier, which market leader Verizon has attempted to capitalize on with a series of advertisements.

Earlier this year, the iPhone was referred to as the "Hummer of cellphones" as AT&T's network struggled following the launch of the iPhone 3GS. A report said that the average iPhone user consumes 10 times the bandwidth of a typical smartphone user. Last week, de la Vega noted that 40 percent of AT&T's network capacity is consumed by just 3 percent of smartphone users.