AT&T wants new wireless devices. So where's the new pricing?

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. - AT&T announced yesterday that it wants more non-phone devices to connect wirelessly to its cell phone data network. I agree. Everything should be wireless. But AT&T itself is the bottleneck. What we need is the ability to add gadgets to existing wireless plans.

AT&T also announced yesterday the appointment of Glenn Lurie as president of the newly created AT&T Emerging Devices unit. As part of that announcement, company mouthpieces summarized the carrier's vision to take the idea of non-phone devices, such as wireless broadband enabled cars (OnStar) and e-book readers (Amazon Kindle) and extend it to a broad range of other devices. AT&T called on the gadget industry in general to partner with the carrier to bring into existence a huge market for such wirelessly connected devices.

AT&T apparently envisions selling many of these devices in its own stores, as well as Wal-Mart and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it appears that part of AT&T's vision is to require a separate wireless account for each device. So while AT&T is calling on the industry to wirelessly enable digital cameras, GPS devices and other gadgets, AT&T itself is the barrier to market formation.

If AT&T is serious about this initiative, it needs to figure out how to offer SIM cards for new devices that fall into existing wireless data plans rather than forcing customers to add a separate, expensive data plan for each new device.

The benefit to AT&T is that additional gadgets will encourage customers to drive up data usage, which the company can charge standard rates for. But if AT&T sees one customer with three devices as the profit equivalent of three customers, then AT&T will and should fail, and the business will go to whichever competitor enables all devices on single plans.

AT&T did the right thing by creating an Emerging Devices unit. But now, the company needs to let emerging devices actually emerge, which they will not do if each must have its own expensive wireless account.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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