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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.

Infostack 12/5/2012 | 5:37:13 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

Carriers need to evolve.  Move from vertical integration to horizontal orientation, facilitating vertical completeness.  Just the way data processing evolved post PC.  Apple is the new monopoly via a vertically complete ecosystem that trumps others.  Not vertically integrated.  http://bit.ly/AzWLF3

^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

The way the story was written, one could infer that all these development centers being located in the Bay Area by carriers is new.  By reading it, you see that Verizon and ATT are establishing centers here and it imply's that Sprint is also doing a new center here.


the minor correction: Sprint has had very advanced robust labs and development center in Burlingame for more than 20 years.  


In fact, that lab built one of the first Fiber Rings around the bay area many many years ago to do trials and experiments on the network that led to high speed SONET, DWDM, IPoWDM, etc.  That ring connected together carrier POP's, server centers, Apple, HP, and others for joint development work on the network.


ATT has had labs here for a long time as well.


sailboat

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

Probably not. And that's likely why we see the emphasis on it now. They're kind of embarrassed that this whole ecosystem lives on their land with no help from them and no apparent need for them.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

Bell Labs is owned by the French now. AT&T Labs is a tough thing to figure out because they haven't been as chatty and open to outsiders as they were in the early 90s. Hopefully that will change.


Giving bandwidth to college students is a good idea, too. I think it will take a half dozen different approaches to find the next big idea but only a handful of those can be tied to publicly-held companies with impatient shareholders.

kaps 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

I agree. I just wish there were some real developers stepping forward from any of the providers' incubator plans to explain why pairing with AT&T is better than say, just taking some VC money and building your app that way. Are there any apps out there now that are better because of their network smarts?

kaps 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

I agree. I just wish there were some real developers stepping forward from any of the providers' incubator plans to explain why pairing with AT&T is better than say, just taking some VC money and building your app that way. Are there any apps out there now that are better because of their network smarts?

kaps 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

An additional thought on Prabhu's talk came during a later panel, when former FCC chief of staff and National Broadband Plan czar Blair Levin said about innovation that "with all due respect Bell Labs is not going to do it for us the way they did in the past."


Levin is now part of the Gig.U initiative, which plans to put gigabit networks in college towns to let people there experiment with high-speed networks. Any opinions on which model might work better?

kaps 12/5/2012 | 4:55:34 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

An additional thought on Prabhu's talk came during a later panel, when former FCC chief of staff and National Broadband Plan czar Blair Levin said about innovation that "with all due respect Bell Labs is not going to do it for us the way they did in the past."


Levin is now part of the Gig.U initiative, which plans to put gigabit networks in college towns to let people there experiment with high-speed networks. Any opinions on which model might work better?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:55:33 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision

 


So, let me say first off that I think this is actually a huge waste of time for a carrier.  From that, you will be able to read this with the glass color that I have.


Okay, most apps sell less than 10,000 copies.  If you get $1 per purchase, that means that an app has a REVENUE value of $10K.  Now, people will point out that there are various apps that make a lot more money.  But how many apps out there have sold $1M in revenue?  Think its millions?  Thousands?  Dozens?


So, this idea that people have this grand notion of how to build a "killer app" just is wrong headed.  People are building LOTS of non-killer apps.  Small, targeted, disaggregated, specific apps that are viewed as killer by a small audience.


The killer app is APPS!  Small programs that do useful/entertaining/funny/helpful/irritating/whatever things for users. Everybody can buy the ones they like!  I have a Cricket app for my Android because I asked a number of questions that got no response.  So, I started playing my Cricket App as a way to signal my displeasure.  It cost me $1.  Is it worth it?  Probably not.  Do I like it?  Yes...yes I do!


The idea of making people go to a "center" to help with app development is like ensuring that Facebook uses a waterfall model of development.  It is so incongruous that it is just silly.


Now comes the API.  Another waste of time.  So, now I can have an app but it only works on your network?  Why do I bother? 


So, what can carriers do?  Write some apps!


Before one believes that app stores only exist for the Mobile network....Well, I give you Steam...


http://store.steampowered.com/


Now, it is only for gaming but poke around a bit and see if you don't think that this would be an interesting tool to distribute and sell software.


seven


 

mikand-54 12/5/2012 | 4:55:32 PM
re: From AT&T Labs: A New(er) Network Vision




Additionally, what's left of Ma Bell doesn't play well with others - ever tried to negotiate a services or product contract with them?  The word "negotiate" isn't actually in their vocabulary...  


Also, having known quite a few independent application developers over the years, I can assure you that they will not work well with Ma Bell, either.  They tend to be, well, independent...


So, that’s two very good reasons why apps will most likely need to be developed internally at AT&T.  Hopefully they will have the good sense to let their developers operate creatively and independently.








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