CES 2013: AT&T eschews new handsets for softphones, connected homes and VOD

AT&T(s t) usually uses CES and its co-located developer conference as a launch pad for new gadget announcements, but apart from the new Pantech Discover, new phone announcements are scarce. Instead, AT&T spent its first day at the Las Vegas showcase focusing on the content and services side of business.

AT&T revealed it is exploring a universal mobile phone number, which can be detached from the phone and stuck in any device or app. On the connected home front, Ma Bell announced it was expanding its Digital Life home security and automation service beyond its initial two trial markets. In the U-Verse group, AT&T is also launching a new subscription video-on-demand service, which allows customers to stream movies and TV shows to their smartphones, tablets and PC browsers.

Let’s take them one at a time:

  • The big news at AT&T’s Developer Summit was a new API which gives third party programmers and device makers access to AT&T’s most important customer asset: the phone number. By tapping into the API, developers can start tying IP voice, messaging and social networking platforms directly to AT&T phone numbers and extend a single number to multiple devices and applications. The API platform, which was developed over Voxeo Labs’ Tropo platform and rides over AT&T’s Ericsson(s eric)-built IP Multimedia subsystem (IMS) services framework, is still just in beta, but it could wind up being one of AT&T’s most sought after APIs. If there is one login or network identifier that every mobile user has it’s a phone number.
  • AT&T’s Digital Life connected home service will be available in eight markets in March and will roll out to more than 50 markets in 2013. The service is currently available in Dallas and Atlanta, but AT&T didn’t reveal the identity of the six new cities. AT&T has big ambitions for its smart home unit cementing together disparate connectivity areas ranging from climate control to the pet monitoring. To that end, Ma Bell and Cisco Systems(s csco) announced a new home control panel, which connects those apps and their supporting hardware to the network.
  • The new VOD service will be called Screen Pack, and it’s likely AT&T’s answer to Netflix(s nflx) and other on-demand streaming services. AT&T is charging $5 a month for the service, offering up unlimited streaming of “more than a thousand” movies on demand from the set-top box, a browser or from U-Verse smartphone and tablet apps.

CES is just getting started, so we may hear plenty more from AT&T as the week progresses, but don’t count on this year’s event as being a big phone-centric event. FierceWireless polled several analysts and insiders before the event, arriving at the conclusion that the mobile carriers and device vendors would focus more on the “mobile experience” rather than the mobile device. Given AT&T’s news today, Fierce appears to be on the mark.