Digital Commerce

AT&T’s Donovan speaks on innovating for the future

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the AT&T analyst day in New Jersey. Mobility was one of three main pillars that were discussed during the event including network sourcing and everything as a service.  At each AT&T event, the focus on mobility becomes clearer and richer. The team discussed how it’s upgrading the network to support increasing data needs and how its wired IP network supports VPNs, mobile and IPTV networks. Executives also discussed how solutions like mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs) and services are enabling firms to mobilize the business and how verticals such as healthcare are using mobile to transform the industry. John Donovan, AT&T’s CTO, gave a presentation titled “Network of Intelligence, Innovating for the Future.” A great line from the presentation is “the network becomes oxygen”. As a communications analyst, I couldn’t agree more. There were several key take aways from his presentation, which I have interpreted as:

  • The world is embracing a shared infrastructure. A few years ago, the market was in a heated debate on companies’ willingness to use the cloud. Today, firms of all sizes are using the cloud. In my personal experience, the debate has shifted to what they will use the cloud for and how much of the business will transition to cloud services.
  • Services will become people-centric, but device and network agnostic. We’re moving from a world of one device per person to multiple devices per person. We are moving from a world of one wired connection per home to numerous wireless connections – and possibly some wired as well. The old world of telecom was based on one service per device (e.g. cellphone, laptop data card, TV) and services were based on what access network was required to deliver the service (e.g. DSL, 3G, PSTN voice). Additionally, services were classified as either business or consumer contracts and the rates varied. The future of telecom turns this model on its ear. It simplifies the morass of products by charging for services based on the individual instead of the number of devices or types of networks they use. In the future, a person will subscribe to connectivity, content, and value added services such as security.
  • Services, not just devices, will be mobile. Mobility will take on a new meaning as not only will devices be portable , but content and services will also be portable. Individuals will use a combination of cloud storage, SaaS, cloud media and remote desktop access to store, retrieve and consume content while on the go. Two-factor authentication services will be used to verify that the person attempting to access the content and services is authorized to do so. Many of today’s services are locked to the device or to the residence. For example, if you go to a person’s house you will only have access to the programming they have purchased. In the future, you’ll be able to authenticate on a device anywhere and ask it to deliver your services to you. This doesn’t mean that devices will be dumb. It just means that certain services will also become portable. You’ve seen it happen with devices like the Slingbox that allows a consumer to send their  TV programming to other devices. The next iteration of these services will require less hardware and more software.
  • Services will be contextual and relevant. This is a huge departure from where we are today. If AT&T and other carriers can become better at analytics, service providers could mash-up customer knowledge with other third party data and services to create relevant services without invading privacy.

Donavan predicted that by 2021, we can expect three things: 1) everything will be contextual and relevant; 2) Apps will become natural companions and 3) Hardware will disintegrate and software and services will integrate.  While I believe there is much work to be done, AT&T’s vision makes sense. I personally believe customers will allow businesses to use their data, if and only if, we can provide relevant services. Now the industry and AT&T’s challenge is to create the systems that will allow us to generate this context and relevancy.

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