AT&T-sponsored data provider Syntonic Wireless opened its Sponsored Content Store for the carrier on Thursday, offering up more mobile apps and content that the carrier's customers can use without affecting their data plans.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) unveiled its plans for toll-free data, in which the sponsoring company pays for data usage stemming from its app rather than the consumer, in early January. The announcement sparked a lot of controversy at the time, with opponents afraid the carrier would create an uneven playing field by giving precedence to those brands that could afford to pay. (See AT&T Unveils Toll-Free, Sponsored Data and AT&T Toll-Free Data: Innovation or Rip-Off?)
AT&T has said it will not prioritize speeds or give undue support to brands that participate. Rather, it's positioning it as a way for brands to better engage with their customers, or for enterprises to connect with their employees. So far, most of the participating companies, like Hershey, appear to be using the service to offset the cost of delivering video adds to consumers.
The program, powered by Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), so far is supported by three sponsored data providers, including ad platforms Aquto and HipCricket Inc. , and startup Syntonic Wireless, which has built a storefront powered by its Connected Services Platform, which couples mobile apps and content with 4G connectivity.
AT&T postpaid customers who are on its HSPA+ or LTE network and have a compatible Android or iOS smartphone, tablet, or laptop will be able to access the content store and download apps they can use toll free. Syntonic isn't naming any participating brands, but notes that the program is still in beta, with a commercial launch planned for August.
While AT&T's toll-free data plan doesn't actually reduce users' bills, the carrier will include usage of the apps on their monthly statements to show them how much data they would've burnt up had it been counted against the cap. The carrier hasn't yet revealed one crucial detail -- what it is charging the content providers per megabyte to be exempt from the cap -- but the set-up of its sponsored data does let it essentially make money twice -- from its customers and the participating brand.
This type of app-based billing model has sprung up across the globe in the past few years, and Heavy Reading expects to see more of it going forward. Despite the controversy around AT&T's implementation, analyst firm Ovum Ltd. named it an "innovative service of the month" in March, noting that the "service introduces a new business model for broadband connectivity for AT&T and paves the way for others to follow suit." (See Carriers Warm Up to Service Innovation.)
"As with any new business models, success depends on how well AT&T educates potential customers about the benefits of using the service," Ovum analyst Sara Kaufman wrote at the time. "The visibility and management features along with the analytics tools should encourage enterprise sponsors to try the offer."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading