From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

2:50 PM Krish Prabhu touts intelligent networks, mobile apps and the new era of network openness at AT&T

August 23, 2011

3 Min Read
From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

2:50 PM -- ASPEN, Colo. -- TPI Aspen Forum -- When he looks at the wireless network of the future, AT&T Labs CEO Krish Prabhu sees applications at the center. But can he get third-party developers to share his vision?

In his first big public appearance since taking over as president and CEO of AT&T Labs a couple months ago, the telecom-industry legend Prabhu on Tuesday told the TPI Aspen Forum audience that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is making historic strides to make its network more accessible to outside parties, via its Foundry program, which is well known to Light Reading readers. If all goes to plan, developers will work in concert with AT&T to develop game-changing applications of the future, much in the same way that browsers and DSL services combined to spur the first Internet boom. (See Krish Prabhu Becomes AT&T Labs' New Boss and AT&T's Dapper Den for App Developers.)

“For the first time, we are consciously opening up the network,” said Prabhu, speaking of a plan to expose more than 150 network-function APIs so that developers might create applications that are intertwined with a more intelligent network. “If we can attract developers and give them full access to the capabilities of the network, it can create a virtuous cycle that attracts new users and expands the network population,” Prabhu said.

AT&T has an internal innovation pipeline that takes advantage of all the smart people who cash company paychecks, but this move to interact with third-party developers is new to the historically closed AT&T network. But the focus on bringing more applications forward, Prabhu said, is a logical progression of the shift that sees wireless as the primary engine for network expansion and more data usage.

“There is a lot of potential in the network, to make it a smarter network,” Prabhu said. “And that network will be apps-centric. If we are all moving to smartphones, it’s pretty dumb if you don’t have apps [on that network].”

While the strategy seems to make sense -- having access even to simple things like a provider’s databases to help locate or identify a mobile user might allow a developer to build a potentially more powerful program -- the challenge for AT&T and competitors like Verizon and Sprint that have launched similar programs is how to make working with the service provider a more attractive option than simply starting a standalone company, something that happens almost every day in places like Silicon Valley.

To that end, all three of the top wireless providers have targeted the greater Bay Area for one of their developer-incubator outlets, including AT&T’s “Foundry” scheduled to open in Palo Alto next month. (Verizon has a similar space in San Francisco, while Sprint has an innovation lab in Burlingame, Calif., near the San Francisco airport). Putting facilities in areas where innovators currently live and work, Prabhu said, just makes sense, to make it easier for potential developers to join forces with AT&T.

Like its competitors, AT&T’s Foundry plan includes the potential to help fund and launch developer companies by bringing venture capitalists in to the process -- but also like Verizon and Sprint, AT&T as of yet doesn’t have any success stories to point to, leading to the question of whether or not developers actually see any value in working so closely with a single service provider. But with $80 million already sunk into the program, it’s not something Prabhu is looking to for overnight success.

“Hopefully we’ll look back in four or five years and see what worked, and what did not,” Prabhu said.

— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a Wireless analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Light Reading.

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