A quick look around the just opened Flatbush, Brooklyn location of
Digital cameras, video cameras, and personal navigation devices (PNDs) will follow the example of PDAs by going wireless to increase their value to consumers, said Ralph de la Vega, president/CEO of AT&T's wireless and wireline operations.
“They will need to have wireless,” de la Vega said during a presentation here at the CTIA convention. “In Best Buy,” he added, “there won't be a device in the next two to three years that is not somehow wirelessly enabled.”
CE devices, he contended, “are more valuable when connected to our network,” and as a result, “customers will be willing to pay more for them.”
In digital cameras, he said, wireless becomes a “limitless memory card,” allows for immediate backup to the Internet, and lets users send timely pictures to wireless-enabled digital pictures frames. In PNDs, wireless will deliver real-time traffic and updated points-of-Interest data. And in vehicle telematics, wireless will deliver diagnostic information to the factory, he said.
Netbooks, too, will eventually be like PDAs, said AT&T CMO David Christopher. They “must be connected or die.”
AT&T is best positioned to provide a wireless connection to CE devices, including portable media players, because the carrier operates a cellular 3G network, a network of Wi-Fi hot spots, and landline broadband service that can be accessed via Wi-Fi in the home, de la Vega added. AT&T's GSM technology, he added, can be used in 80 percent of the world. “Some companies that can't afford a 3G chipset can put in Wi-Fi,” he noted.
To embed wireless in all these devices, however, carriers must “change industry rules” to bring machine-to-machine wireless to market “in a customer friendly way.” That means carries must be flexible in charging for wireless use. In some cases, consumers must be billed per use without paying an up-front fee. In other cases, the manufacturer could be billed. Sony pays AT&T when a Sony camera with embedded Wi-Fi is used in an AT&T hot spot, he said.
In the case of netbooks, the company is going in a different direction. In trials in Atlanta and Philadelphia, the company is selling three netbooks bundled with cellular, Wi-Fi hot spot, and wireline broadband service $49, or $99 without landline service. With a minimum two-year $40/month service contract, consumers get 200MB of data usage over cellular and free Wi-Fi. Consumers who add broadband wireless packages starting at $20 are entitled to a $49 netbook.
Consumers also have the option of buying a 5GB/month cellular plan with free hot spot service for $60. That plan became available previously through RadioShack, which gets a commission for selling a netbook with service, AT&T said.
The trials will probably last a couple of months, said Christopher. It would be “ideal” to bring the new plan to the indirect channel, he added.