CTIA 2011: AT&T's Donovan Backs Innovation Through Openness

ORLANDO, Fla. -- International CTIA WIRELESS 2011 -- While other wireless CEOs were portraying AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as a threat to wireless innovation, AT&T's CTO was touting his company's record on that turf while also giving the rallying cry for more common platforms and open interfaces to encourage third-party developers. (See CTIA 2011: Verizon, Sprint CEOs React to AT&T/T-Mobile Combo .)

At an Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) conference here Tuesday, AT&T CTO John Donovan described the telecom customer of the future as the "pivot point" of his own services, enjoying device independence, networks as pervasive as oxygen and applications that live in the cloud.

That's going to require common platforms where developers can write an application once and deploy it via multiple carriers, Donovan said, citing the work of the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) as "a central hub" in that regard.

"To make the ecosystem work, we have to transform how we build the network," Donovan said. "We need interoperability to occur at every layer of the network, so services have a consistency -- they are consistent to consumers and, most importantly, developers show up to innovate. If the messaging API is the same for AT&T and Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), the developers don't have to rewrite global apps."

Consumers today are characterized by the devices they carry, the service providers they choose and who pays their bills, he added. Future consumers need to be able to have multiple accounts -- such as home and work -- on a single device with multiple bills, or be able to use any device to access their services and applications, which must be cloud-based.

"So if I visit a friend, their device becomes my device," Donovan said. "And that 51-inch screen in the home is not just a TV, it can also do a phone call."

Innovations in networks, applications, software and devices are still needed to enable all this user flexibility, and key to those innovations is the combination of cloud computing and mobility, Donovan said.

"We have to get in the habit of putting the two together in all ways -- advanced broadband networks with cloud computing provide a powerful combination," he said.

Consumers today carry multiple devices, but that will change, and the endpoint growth will be in machine-to-machine communications. Donovan showed off a networked pillbox that blinks when it's time for medication to be dispensed, and a networked slipper -- now being tested by Texas Tech -- that detects changes in the gait of its wearer to help prevent or detect falls by the elderly.

Donovan added in a later panel that the proliferation of devices and capabilities will initially make the home network "a dog's breakfast" before carriers can sort through all the in-home challenges to create a more cohesive environment.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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