AT&T: Bring On The Developers, We Need Them

AT&T (s t) is ramping up its courtship of developers with the opening today of the first of three Foundry Innovation Centers in Plano, Texas. The center, a sort of gifted and talented program for developers, signals AT&T’s increasing willingness to collaborate with app developers as it tries to remain on the cutting edge of consumer and enterprise communications services.

AT&T’s plan is to bring in 400 companies a year through the centers for speed-dating like sessions, where AT&T’s business and technology leaders will hunt for dozens of promising potential partners. The payoff for selected developers is access to AT&T’s network and test-beds as well as guidance from its technology professionals. AT&T said it will also help speed those projects to market three times faster than it would normally take. AT&T might license the technology or products or could create a revenue sharing relationship.

It’s unclear what exactly AT&T is looking for, but the operator is likely seeking hot applications that can show off and enhance the power of its network. The Plano site will be an LTE-test bed and will likely play host to developers who can build applications atop the 4G network.

“What we’re focused on is creating an open environment where we can bring in innovators and collaborate and drive services to market,” said Jon Summers, AT&T’s senior vice president of application and services infrastructure. “The sweet spot is really that collaboration.”

The Plano center will be joined later this year by similar facilities in Palo Alto, CA and Ra’anana, Israel. All three will look to tackle some broad themes including tele-health, changing the online experience with HTML5 and machine-to-machine applications. AT&T said it already has more than two dozen projects underway and just yesterday interviewed more than a dozen companies in Plano. The company, through its AT&T Labs, already has a history of technology break throughs including the first cell phone network. It’s also got a good reputation for working with developers. Its developer program was named the best among wireless carriers for the fifth year in a row in a recent survey by Evans Data Corporation.

But the new innovation centers show that the operator realizes it needs to be even more open to outside innovation to help it compete in the future. With the state of communications, especially wireless, moving at a break neck pace, AT&T is smart to see that it needs to look beyond its walls for ideas. Developers are increasingly the key to success not just for platforms but operators, who need their support and innovation. Hopefully, AT&T will know what to do with this injection of ideas. Operators are not known for being the most adventurous bunch. It would be a shame to engage developers and then fail to capitalize on their most cutting-edge work.

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