AT&T ad-supported phone plans could just be a year away

Just as browser makers and laws start to crack down on the abuse and misuse of ads, one major US network operator might be daring to stir up the hornet's nest in about a year's time. AT&T CEO John Stankey revealed the company's thoughts on how it could offer cheaper mobile subscriptions and, as you might expect, it involves serving customers targeted ads.

Stankey says that customers, if given a choice, might be willing to take those ads if it means shaving $5 to $8 dollars off their bills. Given the current economy and global situation, there might be some painful truth to that and it is, to some extent, the other side of the subscription coin that's already in practice today. Services like Spotify and YouTube Music offer ad-free streaming for a price while AT&T is pretty much approaching it from the opposite end.

That, however, doesn't touch what will most likely be the thorniest part of this new business model. Targeted ads work only through tracking and AT&T is pretty much in a prime position to track its customers across multiple devices. This would actually allow the carrier to sell its ads at a higher rate exactly because those ads can be fine-tuned to individuals.

This will naturally come into scrutiny especially given AT&T's current advertising framework that brings in data from external sources. Even Stankey is doubtful it can be relied on for long, especially with new state laws that try to minimize such sharing of customer data.

The chief exec says that the new ad-subsidized plans could launch a year from now but doesn't go into detail how it would be implemented. Other companies and carriers have also attempted this business model without much success but an ad-supported HBO Max service next year could be the launching pad for its phone plans.