Mobile operating systems will be key to changing the way enterprises work, AT&T's chief of mobility said on Wednesday.

"2011 will be a breakout year for mobilizing the enterprise," Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of mobility for AT&T, said during the keynote presentation at the CTIA conference in San Francisco.

This year was notable in mobile-operating-system development, he said. Apple released iOS4, Google came out with Android 2.2, Research In Motion launched OS6 and Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 devices are soon to hit the market.

"These OSes are evolving at an incredible rate," he noted. They are also enabling new kinds of devices that are likely to be important to enterprise users.

"As new computing devices like tablets come into the enterprise, they will be powered by mobile OSes, not desktop OSes. This will shorten innovation cycles dramatically," he said. For instance, Apple's iPad uses the iPhone operating system, many new tablets are coming out running Android, and RIM just announced a new tablet that runs on software it acquired last year.

Developers are writing native apps for the operating systems running these tablets and releasing them quickly, he said. That process is happening at a faster clip than development for traditional desktop PCs, he said.

He cited research from Forrester that expects tablet sales to grow by 42 percent each year over the next five years. By then, tablets will make up one-quarter of all U.S. computer sales, beating desktop PCs, he said.

As the leader of AT&T's mobile efforts, de la Vega is interested in the growth of tablets because many of them will come with the ability to access the Internet over cellular networks. Mobile data is becoming an increasingly important source of revenue for mobile operators. In the first half of 2009, wireless data revenue accounted for more then 25 percent of carrier total revenue, said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA. During the same period this year, data revenue made up 31 percent of total revenue, he said.

Wireless data service revenue industrywide for the first six months of this year was US$25 billion, up more than 27 percent over the same period last year, he said. In the first half of this year, operators carried more than 161 billion megabytes of data, an increase of almost 50 percent over last year, he said.