“We’re growing at a rate of one million plus net adds per quarter,” says Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices, resale and partnerships for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. “The ecosystem is really starting to understand what this is about.”
Lurie, who oversees all things wireless beyond handsets and other devices designed specifically for mobile connectivity, has high ambitions for this sector. Citing a recent projection anticipating wireless penetration, now at 98 percent, will hit 107 percent by 2013, Lurie says, “If that’s the penetration level in 2013 I’ll be looking for a job,” he jokes.
“It has to be bigger for us to succeed,” he says. “We’re anticipating 300-500 percent penetration within the next three years. The biggest growth by far will be coming in the emerging device space. Everything will be connected.”
Lurie took the lead position in the connected device initiative about two and half years ago with a mandate to break out of the slow approach to business growth that characterizes AT&T and other carriers. “We’re a smart startup in AT&T,” he says. “We approach every category with a clean piece of paper. We look at different opportunities with different business models tailored to the vertical.”
That tailoring is the hard part, given the great range of use cases for wireless connectivity that are intrinsic to the targeted markets. “They’re all different, and every OEM in there is different,” he says, in reference to the types of components that have to be connected to the wireless network.
The targeted verticals include:
• Tracking devices
• Connected home
• Health care
• Digital commerce
• Automotive telemetrics
Expectations that immense growth in wireless usage is ahead are driving AT&T to accelerate its LTE (4G Long-Term Evolution) network expansion, Lurie says, noting the carrier does not want to get caught short on capacity the way it did when the iPhone took off. “Mobile data traffic at AT&T is up 8,000 percent over the past four years,” he says. “We’re predicting eight to ten times more data on our network over the next four years. So we’re going to accelerate our LTE buildout, which we expect to complete by the end of 2013.”
Lurie acknowledges AT&T was caught flat footed when Verizon became exclusive wireless provider for the connected Amazon Kindle ereader in 2009. “That got [AT&T CEO] Randall Stevenson to say, what else is out there we should be connecting to?” Lurie recalls. The answers led to the initiative he now spearheads, which has more than made up for lost time.
“We’re in the lead now with innovative technology and more customers than anyone else in this space,” he asserts. “We have responsibility to make sure we continue to innovate.”
One key goal is to integrate the subscriber experience across multiple verticals. Applications like energy management, home security and other connected-home services need to have backend connectivity to the user’s entertainment services interfaces, and all that needs to be integrated with the automotive applications. Further along, as health care comes into focus, that, too, needs to be linked in.
“This has to be easy for consumers,” Lurie says. “Devices have to be integrated for accessing and managing applications. People don’t want to have to deal with four different portals. I want to be able to see if my mother took her pills or where my dog is, whether I’m using my iPad or my iPhone.”
Despite Lurie’s evangelizing stance, not every vertical is going to leap onto the connectivity bandwagon as fast as AT&T would like, he acknowledges. The auto industry, while incremental steps are in progress, has yet to buy in wholeheartedly.
“The future of the connected car is phenomenal,” Lurie says. “People in the front seats have access to embedded and connected applications associated with safety, diagnostics and real-time traffic reports. You have entertainment on screens in the back seat.”
A lot of this will take some getting used. “Less than 20 percent of people who have Bluetooth connections actually use them,” he says. “But those connections could be life saving. You need to be able to make a 911 call when the air bag goes off and you don’t have a phone handy. You need to be able to see the status of your car on your smartphone. It all has to work together.”
Health care is another category where it will take time for things to take hold, given the caution that surrounds use of all this technology for reliable monitoring and treatment in potentially life-threatening situations.
“Certain industries take a long time to execute great ideas,” Lurie says. “Health takes a long time to be approved. My goal in health was to get some quick wins. We have a funnel full of things we’re working on.”
One already in play is a special cap used on pill containers which glows when the user forgets to take medication as scheduled. If the neglect persists, the device emits a sound and, eventually, sends a message to family members and the doctor over the wireless connection. “This is a very useful application,” Lurie says. “Studies show that 47 percent of people over 60 don’t take their meds as instructed.”
The rampup will come, says Parks Associates. In February the research firm released a report predicting that U.S. revenues from digital health technology-enabled solutions and services will exceed $5.7 billion in 2015, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent from the $1.7-billion level in 2010. This surge will be fueled by chronic-care monitoring solutions, senior aging-in-place services and connected wellness and fitness apps and programs, Parks forecasts.
“The digital health industry has many subsectors, and near-term growth will be uneven
across these segments,” says Harry Wang, director of Parks Associates’ health research team. “Adoption of chronic-care monitoring will grow slowly, and medication management and senior fall-detection programs will expand at above-average rates. The real engines of growth in this industry will be mobile care solutions and tracking applications.”
But while Wang is optimistic about the future of digital health care, he says the political impasse over the new health care law could delay investment in new technologies and create funding challenges for new business models. “To move forward, this industry needs smart entrepreneurs and visionary industry leaders and a regulatory and reimbursement system amenable to innovative, effective, and cost-saving technology advances,” he says.
Home energy management is another area where full realization of the potential requires strong buy-in by the affected industry. “We’re working as fast as we can to make things happen, but the space is moving slow based on how the ecosystem works,” Lurie reports.
In May the Consumer Electronics Association offered supporting analysis in this space with a white paper calling for real-time consumption and pricing information for consumers to use in managing energy usage. Smart grid technologies “will revolutionize the way Americans understand and manage energy consumption,” CEA says.
“The most efficient untapped energy resource may be energy efficiency achieved through demand response,” the organization says in a release announcing availability of the white paper. “However, consumer-driven demand response will not happen without fundamental changes in the way consumers participate in the energy marketplace.”
The starting point is providing consumers useful consumption data, which will require a coordinated effort on the part of federal and state regulators, utilities, third-party smart grid providers and consumers. “Empirical studies show that consumers will shift or curb consumption if given the right economic incentives to do so, and will invest in enabling technologies to assist in automating their responses to these economic incentives,” CEA says. “Open and non-discriminatory data access rules will help preserve the competitiveness of the home energy marketplace and will lead to innovative solutions that we cannot even imagine now.”