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AT&T Takes on 2,000 Temps to Manage iPhone Madness

By Fred J. Aun MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 22, 2007 11:04 AM PT

AT&T is the biggest wireless provider in the United States, but it's feeling the need to get even bigger as June 29 approaches. That's the day it and Apple will begin selling the iPhone.

AT&T Takes on 2,000 Temps to Manage iPhone Madness

Expecting an onslaught of iPhone orders, AT&T is beefing up the ranks of its stores. It recently hired about 2,000 extra summer workers, according to company spokesperson Mark Seigel. The company has 1,800 stores, and its wireless division employs about 58,000, he said.

The much-hyped iPhone, Apple's first entry into the cell phone business, will be sold only by Apple and AT&T, the only wireless service provider on which the iPhone will operate, at least initially.

Apple of Their Eye

The publicity train for the iPhone began in January when Apple head Steve Jobs announced the forthcoming device, which also plays music, shows videos, includes a Web browser and has a touch-screen keyboard. A bevy of television advertisements have been airing as the iPhone release date nears.

The units will go on sale at 6 p.m. June 29. The iPhone will cost US$500 for a 4 GB model and $600 for one with 8 GB.

On top of that, buyers will need to pay AT&T for a calling plan that -- if they want to use the iPhone's Web features -- includes a data plan. AT&T, Seigel said, will advise iPhone buyers about the costs of data plans once the phone is being sold.

"We haven't discussed specifics of pricing," he told MacNewsWorld. "It's not much different from what we do with our current phones. "We will do it in a way that makes sense."

Intensive iPhone Instruction

Given the fact that AT&T apparently expects the iPhone to get snapped up quickly by salivating consumers, it might be said the devices will sell themselves. Nevertheless, Seigel said both the new temporary workers and current AT&T wireless phone sales staffers received extra training to make them adept at selling iPhones. "Obviously, we want people to be able to explain and sell this phone for folks," he said.

However, the fact that AT&T hired 2,000 part-timers is not all that impressive, said JupiterResearch mobile device analyst Neil Strother.

"Two thousand temporary employees over some 1,800 retails stores doesn't seem like that big a deal," he told MacNewsWorld. "It translates to just 1.1 extra person per store, which isn't that much. And since they're temps, if and when things quiet down you just send them home and say, `Thanks, we'll call you when the next big phone launches.'"

Counting the Days

It's "incredibly telling" that any little news related to the iPhone gets big media play, said Strother. "I mean how many stories do we see when Wal-Mart or some other big retailer beefs up its staff for the holidays?" he asked "A few to none? It seems like the Wall Street Journal, and others, are planning the iPhone story of the day until launch. It reminds me of Katrina watch, day 37."

The media hype and AT&T's hiring boost are understandable, said Roger Entner, senior vice president of IAG Research's communications sector. "I think this is the most anticipated phone in living memory," he told MacNewsWorld. "This is right in line with the (Sony) PlayStation 3 launch or the (Nintendo) Wii launch, where people camped out the night before and such. I expect to see people waiting patiently in line to get a hand on this phone and I expect it to sell out."

What happens if he's wrong? What if the iPhone turns out to be a bomb like the Apple Newton?

"Apple has created a culture for itself that is both amazing from a marketing standpoint and somewhat scary if this thing fails to deliver," observed Strother. "Don't get me wrong, this does not appear to be another Newton. But the bar has been set so high, that it better deliver."

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