AT&T Bets on Internet of Things +WSJ on 600MHz band for managed IoT services

Preface:  AT&T’s IoT initiative was formerly called “Emerging Devices,” headed by AT&T Executive Glenn Lurie.


AT&T is looking to diversify its revenue stream by betting on the Internet of Things (IoT), which research company IDC predicts will be a $1.7 trillion market by 2020. The wireless industry sees opportunities for growth in such devices, as well as in connected cars. “We’re just at the beginning,” said Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T’s Internet of Things operations. “It is a top priority of our company to continue to be a leader in the IoT space,” he added.

Internet of Things is a reported fast-growing area (we disagree as it’s ultra hyped) where industrial and consumer firms and software providers are teaming up to offer smarter ways of doing things such as predicting mechanical problems before they arise, controlling machines at home remotely or integrating municipal services. 

AT&T already has a strong position in the automotive industry, where it has 10 major carmakers using a platform it has developed to deliver services such as roadside assistance, weather reports or Internet radio to cars on the road.

“We have the ability not only to connect things … we also have the ability to enable the collection and the analytics of the data behind those as well as do it in a secure manner and do it globally,” Penrose said. 

But he said AT&T did not insist that customers use its own platforms, rather allowing them to use their preferred technology. “We want to be the very best collaboration partner,” he said. “Sometimes we will provide connectivity and that’s OK.” 

At the Hannover Messe, AT&T announced new deals including one with Otis, in which it will connect data from Otis elevators to Microsoft’s Azure cloud, enabling Otis to access real-time equipment performance data.  Penrose said in this case AT&T would add value through the security of its connection. In other cases, it might exploit its more mundane but essential expertise in areas like billing – a core competence of wireless carriers. 

AT&T does not disclose how much revenue it makes from the Internet of Things. Rival Verizon said it made about $690 million in IoT revenue in 2015, up 18 percent year on year, of a total $132 billion in revenue. 

AT&T has about 26 million connected objects and is connecting more than a million more every quarter, Penrose said.


In an April 28th WSJ op-ed “How to Bring The ‘Internet Of Things To Life,” Jerome Rota wrote:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering bids for its latest spectrum auction, of licenses to transmit in the 600 megahertz band, now that the March 29 application deadline has passed. Though it might seem arcane, the resale of this enormous swath of airwaves, freed from TV broadcasters by Congress in 2012 and now pitched toward wireless carriers, is hugely important. That’s because the 600 megahertz band could finally bring a techie buzzword, the Internet of Things, to fruition.

This low-frequency bandwidth, in layman’s terms, isn’t great for carrying big loads of data, so it won’t be much help in streaming high-definition Netflix on your iPhone. But it is fantastic at traveling long distances and penetrating buildings—past metal doors and through concrete basements, where your cell coverage now wanes. That’s important for keeping online those sensors and gadgets that we keep hearing will soon pepper our homes and apartments.

From a consumer perspective, the Internet of Things has not yet delivered on its promise. Plenty of cool, connected and smart stuff is available for purchase, but the technology still requires a prohibitive amount of effort to get going. And even then, it often doesn’t work the way it should. The communications protocols, gateways, routers and hubs leave consistent device compatibility somewhere between a technical chore and an impossible dream.Perhaps worse, security remains a major issue, in part because it’s difficult to update software as device manufacturers release patches and bug fixes. Demonstrations uploaded to YouTube show the simplicity of hacking everything from baby monitors to coffee pots. With all the apps, boxes and devices needing updates, you would need a full-time IT specialist to make your home truly smart.

Instead of having to set up and maintain all of these networked devices, a wireless carrier could do it for you. The 600 megahertz band (FCC auction forthcoming) would ensure that a strong and secure signal is always available in any part of your home. Consider how this could change passive home-safety devices such as smoke alarms, air-quality monitors or flood sensors in dishwashers. The consumer could plug them in and forget them for years. They could be programmed to send text notifications if they sense something or need a battery change.

The Internet of Things could be listed as a service on wireless or cable bills. Consumers could purchase whatever smart stuff they want—a smart lightbulb or thermostat, say—and simply activate the devices with their mobile carriers upon installation. Device security or compatibility would be less of an issue, since they would be handled by a major telecom. The infrastructure already exists for this model to function. Making it work is merely a matter of setting up and marketing the service.

The telecom-empowered Internet of Things is already up and running at some modern hospitals, large corporations and municipalities. For example, AT& T has implemented the Internet of Things at Texas Medical Center in Houston, working with wheelchair-maker Perimobil to produce a connected wheelchair. General Electric uses Verizon to provide connectivity for software-enabled industrial machines and devices. Scaling this technology for everyday consumers is a natural next step.

Although wireless carriers aren’t the most beloved firms in the eyes of most Americans, they could make life a lot easier once brought into homeautomation. If the pricing is reasonable, the Internet of Things will finally provide the promised service without all of the maddening management headaches. None of this is available to the buying public today. For such a model to emerge, carriers would have to both snap up the spectrum and push their partners to explore these commercial possibilities. But the broadband-spectrum auction hints at the possibility of metamorphosis.

Mr. Rota is the chief scientist of usability at Greenwave Systems.  From the company’s website:

Greenwave Systems is a global Internet of Things (IoT) software and services company whose disruptive  Greenwave360™  model enables category-leading brands to quickly and profitably deploy managed services. Greenwave Systems empowers market leading brands to profitably deploy their own Internet of Things managed services and products to foster deeper customer relationships and grow their business.”