2014
03.06

Today, it’s all about 4G/LTE. We are continuing the migration to higher-speed, packet-switched networks, and global connectivity. The carriers are all very influential in the demand for yet another “G,” meaning generation, in the fight for faster speeds, whether needed or not. And it’s no wonder AT&T Mobility isn’t being shy about wanting to take a big bite out of the competitive pie. If I take a look back, AT&T raised more than just a few eyebrows when it formally announced its plan to sunset its 2G network in its August 2012 filings. However, it became pretty clear that AT&T had much bigger plans. Those bigger plans have led to unintended consequences resulting in many consumers being frustrated and confused with AT&T and some of its partners.

AT&T Mobility surely can’t afford to stop blossoming, even as a few customers and some partners get trampled. It’s about stock prices, data connections, and maybe even a little bit of ego to be No.1 in the M2M. It’s just business. Right? (Is AT&T headed in the same direction as Best Buy? Hmmmm…)

With its attention on the long ball for rolling out its 4G network strategy, many observers would attest the industry leader is focused on the money. As a result, open season was essentially declared for other network providers and MVNOs to move in on AT&T’s existing 2G customers. And in fact, many did, forging new partnerships. The cellular service providers have seen a steep increase in the use of data services by companies and consumers alike interested in remotely monitoring high-value assets such as a fleet of trucks, or even more mundane machines like elevators and vending machines, or accessing videos.

Some might even believe AT&T is getting bored and wants a greater challenge. Rather, it’s a company that seeks opportunity and you can’t get to the summit of AT&T by leveraging the media. The connected car is the talk of the town because it’s high-volume and it’s where the future is bright and growth will be quicker.

The same executive that was espousing Digital Life less than a year ago is already stepping away, so to speak, and is now overly braggadocio about the connected car. The vista we now see unfolding before us has to do with how AT&T and the automakers are really going to support you the customer. In the past two years AT&T has launched aggressive programs that challenge the status quo in both home security and automotive, but we have yet to see how consumers will truly benefit if they don’t understand the technology and they aren’t safe on the roads. And it’s no wonder that brilliant consumer’s like Mike McCaskey are considering holding off on making car purchases.

The automakers point to the carriers for the problems with the cellphones for not pairing up. The cellular providers are blaming the OEMs and so it goes, and it’s the customers who are left holding the disconnected bag. At this point we are not seeing AT&T doing anything more than pay lip service to the space to get a ton of media play. Where’s the “beef?” How is AT&T helping customers? Building a research facility is nothing more than show and tell. Is adding partners increasing the credibility or is this for show?

AT&T can package its story to appear that it’s really trying to “Drive” the market for the good of consumers by working more closely with automakers on its new connected-car technologies through a program called AT&T Drive. But once again we have to question if this is all for appearances. What I can’t fathom is how the world’s leading carrier is avoiding the real tough questions about LTE and the consumer.

Today, the network world is all about data. As a result, AT&T wants to develop a mobile app for billing, etc. In the end, this is a great way for it to build its data services since it is losing voice customers faster than we can say cellphones. On the surface the new program sounds appealing to the customer, but when you really peel back the layers of the onion you have to question who really benefits.  If AT&T manages the billing it can add additional services and charge vendors for content that they put on the app essentially becoming a content provider.

No surprise here. AT&T says all it is doing is working with partners and they can do whatever they want, and that means offering consumers vendor-sponsored content and thus, consumers win. But in reality, increased services will eventually follow and ultimately AT&T will be helping to control the message and charging for those services with managed partners, and will be crossing a canon of principles that it loathed violators of doing in the past. From where I sit, if AT&T reaches the precipice it will abandon markets, customers, and partners. Kind of makes you wonder why M2M customers and partners keep falling for the silver-tongue story and believing it will never happen to them, but it always does. What are your thoughts?

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