Elizabeth Woyke, On Friday October 28, 2011, 2:23 pm EDT
Under its emerging devices unit, AT&T has begun selling everything from pill containers that emit wireless reminders to GPS-enabled dog collars. next up: clothes that track the wearer’s heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs and upload the results to a web portal. Glenn Lurie, President of AT&T’s Emerging Devices division, said bio-tracking clothes tie in to the burgeoning “e-wellness” trend. “People want this kind of feedback about their health,” he said in an interview. “Automatically pushing information to a vertically integrated site makes things easier.” these non-phone wireless devices also help AT&T’s bottom line. They are one way carriers can make money off their networks in a country that already has 104% wireless penetration or more than one wireless subscription per person. during AT&T’s most recent financial quarter, the telco added 1.04 million connected devices, beating analyst estimates. the revenue helped AT&T meet analyst expectations despite the pressures of not having a new Apple iPhone to sell during most of the quarter. AT&T now has more than 14 million connected devices on its network, the most of any carrier. Many of its newest gadgets offer some sort of tracking service. AT&T recently launched an ‘Amber Alert’ child tracking device, Garmin’s ‘GTU 10’ GPS locator and a personal monitoring device from BlueLibris designed for senior citizens. AT&T also sells Zephyr Technology’s BioHarness, a physiological monitor that straps around the chest to record heart rate and other data. To broaden this tracking technology’s appeal, AT&T plans to sell it embedded in clothes. instead of a chest strap or bar-shaped, handheld device, there would be a small module that attaches to clothing and can be removed for washing. the garment could resemble the E39 shirts Zephyr designed with under Armour for athletes participating in the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, added Lurie. AT&T would provide the wireless connectivity needed to push the gathered data to the web and smartphones. besides athletes, AT&T thinks bio-tracking clothes could appeal to first responders, like firemen and police officers, as well as the military. “You’d be able to see where your troops are and how they’re doing,” noted Lurie. the company also sees a market with senior citizens, particularly those who opt to remain in their homes instead of moving to assisted living facilities. Someone needs to keep an eye, even if only remotely, on these senior citizens and clothing is likely the easiest way for an older person to wear a physiological monitor, said Lurie. AT&T also plans to sell monitors that come in watch form, for example, but a senior citizen with arthritis or mobility issues may find strapping on a watch difficult, said Lurie. Cars are another focus for Lurie’s organization, which will mark its third year in November. AT&T is working with BMW, Ford and Nissan to wirelessly deliver safety and infotainment services to cars. Lurie predicts that all cars will have embedded wireless modules in three to four years. next year, AT&T will push further into the gaming industry with the launch of Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld console. One version of the Vita will have 3G support through AT&T. the carrier will also continue to sell tablets and e-readers. Lurie believes tablets will become full laptop replacements within a year. He also said Amazon’s Kindle 3G with Special Offers, the ad-supported e-reader AT&T supports, is doing “extremely well” but declined to give sales figures. AT&T keeps costs in check by delivering ads to the Special Offers Kindle in the middle of the night, when data traffic on its network is lighter. Over time, the cost of wireless modules has come down while Lurie’s team has sped up its device certification process. both changes are encouraging more companies to bring their gadgets online, Lurie contends. Of course, having a wide range of unique devices doesn’t matter if consumers aren’t aware of them. Lurie said AT&T will stock more of these non-phone gadgets in its stores. In September, AT&T began dedicating a wall in each shop to tablets and “innovative devices.” the new gadgets will have a home there.