AT&T: iPhone What?

Smartphones might still rule the roost for now, but AT&T Inc. also sees a future in more nontraditional devices, like consumer electronics and machine-to-machine modules. The carrier’s been talking about emerging devices for more than a year now, and now is splashily putting its money where its mouth is with a new lab facility dedicated to emerging device certification and plans for field testing.

With the turn-up of AT&T’s 7.2mbps HSPA upgrade later this year, 3G-embedded gadgets like netbooks, e-readers, portable navigation devices, utility products and healthcare-related tracking devices will get a supercharge in speed, making them that much more compelling. Hence, the lab.

“By offering emerging device manufacturers a one-stop shop for testing and certification, we’re positioned to deliver even greater customer choice and innovation at a much quicker pace,” said Glenn Lurie, president for AT&T Emerging Devices and Resale, in a statement. “Our new lab will focus on consumer electronics and M2M manufacturers and thereby accelerate the process, make it easier for manufacturers and, ultimately, provide a top notch consumer and enterprise customer experience.”

AT&T’s emerging device organization was created last October to expand the company’s reach into the consumer electronics area, in addition to M2M. With the addition of this dedicated lab, AT&T says it’s on track this year to exceed the number of non-stock devices – devices not sold in AT&T stores – certified for its wireless network. Last year, AT&T certified 355 non-stock wireless units, including wirelessly enabled rugged handsets and laptops, health care tracking tools, personal navigation units, and meter reading, vending machine, home detention and home-security monitoring.

The network-ready lab will provide consumer electronics and M2M device manufacturers with a dedicated pipeline for certification for product use on the AT&T network. Located in Austin, the new lab will serve as the hub for testing network compatibility, data performance and audio quality. The lab will also manage the field tests for these devices in markets across the country.

The carrier sees the emerging device organization as an extension of its 3G smartphone-related data strategy. The company is adding more than 1,900 new cell sites to its network this year, expanding 3G service to cover more than 350 markets across the country, and completing a deployment of additional 3G spectrum in the 850 MHz band, which improves overall capacity and in-building coverage.

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