AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan described his vision for a future where more and more data is flowing through mobile networks. He made the comments at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2010 conference today in San Francisco.

The issue can be a sensitive one for AT&T, whose network quality, especially in iPhone-heavy urban areas, has been heavily criticized. So when VentureBeat Editor in Chief Matt Marshall got a chance to ask Donovan a few questions on-stage, he asked what kinds of issues are holding back network quality. It’s a little bit of everything, Donovan replied. With a flood of new chipsets, phones, and applications, the traditional device testing and rollout methods have “broken down.” In addition, AT&T recently faced a shortage of the components needed to improve its network.

“I’ll tell you the things it’s not been,” Donovan said. “It’s not been capital, it’s not been conviction and commitment.” AT&T “will move heaven and Earth” to meet its customers’ growing data needs, he said.

And those data needs will keep increasing over time. We’re only at the beginning of the growth curve, he said. Donovan broke down mobile data usage into three phases — we’re still in phase one, which is the “traditional data world,” and we will soon enter phase two, which Donovan described as “application readiness,” followed by phase three in 2014. By that point, Donovan predicted, we will see point-to-point video, and the amount of data usage in 2008 will basically round down to zero in comparison, he said.

Matt also asked whether the United States will continue to lag behind other countries like Japan when it comes to mobile technology. Donovan replied that he’s “tired” of that question, arguing that the United States has “been a clear leader in phones, designs, operating systems, and applications” in the last three years, and that has only accelerated in the last 24 months.

As for how AT&T’s business evolves in that landscape, Donovan said, “Our world gets very complex very fast.” The market is becoming more competitive, but it’s also presenting new opportunities for mobile carriers. “We’re going to have our own experiences,” he said. “Some of those are going to be in the foreground and some of them are going to be in the background.”

[photo: JP Manninen]