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Elgan: Will AT&T let 'emerging devices' emerge?

Or will the company strangle this infant technology in its crib?

October 17, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - We're about to transition from an era where everything is in the cell phone -- cameras, GPS devices and more -- to one in which the cell phone is also in everything.

Your stand-alone digital camera and your in-car GPS system will connect via the cell phone mobile broadband network and will do powerful things on your behalf.

AT&T says it wants to lead the revolution. But will greed and a lack of vision put the company in the position of killing the revolution before it even begins?

'Emerging devices' emerge at AT&T

AT&T announced a new emerging devices initiative this week, which will be headed by Glenn Lurie. Lurie is probably best known in consumer electronics circles as the guy who landed the Apple iPhone deal for AT&T.

Until this week, Lurie's title was president of national distribution for AT&T's wireless division. Now the company has slapped "emerging devices" on the front of his title and list of responsibilities. So now he's president of emerging devices, national distribution and resale.

(Emerging devices is one of those labels that sounds cool now, but that the company will later regret -- like Microsoft's NT, which originally stood for new technology. Once those devices have "emerged," will Lurie no longer be responsible for them?)

Emerging devices is a euphemism that actually means noncell phone devices that will use the mobile broadband cell phone data network. AT&T's announcement specified "personal computers, mobile Internet devices or mini computers, in-car entertainment and navigation systems, cameras and machine-to-machine communications solutions." Interestingly, all those emerging devices have already emerged, but not necessarily at AT&T.

AT&T is very late to this party. After all, the idea of wirelessly connecting noncell phone devices to the data network for one reason or another has been around for years, and products in this area have been shipping for a long time.

The most significant example is Amazon.com's Kindle, now a year old, which uses a mobile broadband connection via Sprint for downloading electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers from the Amazon store. Mobile broadband catapulted this newcomer to a position of total dominance over e-book rivals like Sony in the U.S. marketplace.

How to stop devices from emerging

Lurie was too busy to talk to me this week, but I did speak with Mark Siegel, executive director of media and industry analyst relations, who made it clear that AT&T isn't making any decisions prematurely. How the technology, pricing and partnership deals will work are undecided at this point, according to Siegel.

AT&T is a dominant company and is in a position to lead the shiny new world of emerging devices, or delay it for years.



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