AT&T once used the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas as a venue to show off its newest phones or to tout the latest upgrade that sped up its wireless network.
This year, it’s all about cars, glucose monitors and smart cities.
The Dallas-based telecom giant spent a majority of its presentation to developers Tuesday at the Pearl Theater in the Palms Casino Resort talking up the potential of reaching its 132 million wireless customers and 45 million video customers.
The change in the tenor of the presentation speaks to how AT&T plans to be a part of your new, more connected life. It’s no longer enough to power your smartphone or home DSL connection. The carrier wants to be the link that connects your car, the health devices that monitor your body and even the infrastructure in your city.
Glenn Lurie, CEO of AT&T’s mobility business, talks about the opportunity to connect cities to smart services.
“This is a new AT&T,” Ralph de la Vega, CEO of the company’s mobility and enterprise business, said in his keynote address.
The push is part of this Internet of Things trend you’ve might have heard about. The idea is that every device — whether it’s a refrigerator or glucose monitor — talks to each other to better serve you, with AT&T angling to become the bridge between things.
There’s a reason why every company is so hot to jump on the IoT bandwagon. The Consumer Technology Associate said the category would help drive the industry to $287 billion in retail revenue in 2016, and heavy hitters such as Samsung Electronics are talking loudly about some smart thing or another.
Those connections are going in everywhere, including coolers built by Red Bull that enable the company to track their location, state and temperature. Red Bull plans to connect 200,000 coolers in the US with AT&T’s tech.
The shift is also a reflection that AT&T’s more traditional businesses just aren’t growing that quickly anymore. In the last quarter, it lost 333,000 phone customers who pay at the end of the month, a signal that competition is taking a toll.
AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier in the US, said it remains committed to the phone business, but wants to pursue new opportunities.
“It’s a more a reflection of where we see velocity is occurring,” Chris Penrose, head of AT&T’s Internet of things business, said in an interview ahead of the presentation. “More and more things will continue to be connected.”
While many companies are looking at connecting light bulbs or refrigerators, AT&T is taking a more holistic approach by looking at the smart city as its next opportunity. The company has partnered with networking equipment companies Cisco and Ericsson, consulting firm Deloitte, General Electric, IBM and chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm to figure out ways to add smarts to citywide infrastructure like street lights and public lighting.
Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago will be the three “spotlight cities” where AT&T will begin its smart city push. Theoretically, this could mean fewer traffic jams and shorter wait times when dealing with public services.
“It will simply make lives better,” said Glenn Lurie, CEO of AT&T’s mobility unit.
AT&T also said it plans to connect more than 10 million Ford cars to its network by 2020, representing an expansion of a deal to offer cellular network capabilities to select Ford vehicles.
The carrier is banking on consumers using the network connection to provide a Wi-Fi hotspot capability to passengers, while drivers may benefit from cellular-powered navigation and the car’s ability to talk to the dealer for regular maintenance checks.
AT&T will specifically power Ford Sync Connect, which will allow you to remotely lock your car doors or start your car and view vehicle information like fuel and battery level or tire pressure.
A healthy push
AT&T also said it would create a “Foundry,” or one of the company’s facilities to research new services and products, in the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute in Houston. The concept is to take outside ideas and develop them into products that reach us faster than normal.
“This is the largest medical complex in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in the middle of it,” Penrose said.
Within the IoT area, health is expected to be one of the faster growing areas as everyone grows more concerned about their well-being.
One example is the YOFiMeter, which is a connected glucose meter that will allow people with diabetes to wirelessly transmit their blood sugar levels and other biometric data to their doctors.