CES 2016: Day Zero – Has AT&T Finally Got Its Developer Summit Right?

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • While scheduled in the run-up to CES, AT&T’s Developer Summit has slowly evolved towards a focus on B2B and B2B2C applications. With IoT and smart city initiatives taking center stage, 2016 was no exception.
  • If the objective of the summit is to drive developer activity that directly benefits AT&T, this evolution is a good thing.

Even before CES kicked off (the official Day One is January 6th), the key themes and topics were well discussed in the media: virtual reality/augmented reality, drones, IoT and wearables, smart home innovations, connected audio, and smartphone and tablet launches from insurgent players. Pre-launches and pre-briefings virtually ensured that these predictions would be accurate and the announcements coming just prior to the show essentially verified them.

You’ll hear more about these topics from our Consumer team throughout the week. Heck, you may even see me comment on them. After all, I do manage our Consumer analysts and, as I’ve noted in the past, the line between network technologies and consumer services isn’t necessarily a hard one. This year, I was even roped into attending a CES press conference where the folks at Dish talked about the way T-Mobile’s Binge On – a zero-rated video offer supported by video optimization – was a perfect match for their Sling TV service. Remember what I said about the connection between network technologies and consumer services?

As usual, however, I showed up in Las Vegas the day before CES officially opened to attend AT&T’s Developer Summit. Traditionally, this has been an event where AT&T engages with developers in order to support its strategic initiatives. And, traditionally, the relationship between the summit and CES hasn’t always been clear; the technologies and agendas being evangelized by AT&T were often more focused on B2B (or B2B2C) than B2C use cases. A few years ago, for example, we saw device announcements and showcases at the summit’s kickoff. Last year, the highlights of the keynote were the new AT&T Drive Studio connected car innovation center and WebRTC API enhancements. We saw that evolution continue this year, reflected in the Developer Summit keynote. Key presentations and panels focused on the following areas:

  • IoT and Smart Cities. While video services and communications APIs were part of the discussion, AT&T’s new smart cities framework and broader IoT innovation essentially stole the show; from testimonials by Red Bull (using IoT for drink cooler and race car performance management) to a panel including an FCC commissioner and the mayor of Atlanta, it’s clear where AT&T is putting resources and it’s clear what AT&T wanted developers to understand.
  • Network Technologies. Part of the IoT and smart cities discussion focused on connectivity technologies. At a time when carriers are looking to “move up the stack” in IoT and focus on generating revenues beyond access, it was nice to see AT&T acknowledge its role as a connectivity provider… and even nicer to hear it acknowledge that LTE Cat-0 is likely to be skipped over in favor of Cat-1 in the near term and Cat-M in the long term. And while some of the IoT access options (HSPA+ or LTE Cat-3, for example) detailed in sessions have consumer applications, a focus on Cat-M and NB-IOT clearly has a B2B bent.
  • Partnerships and Business Models. When smart city panelists were asked how cash-strapped cities could afford IoT buildouts, a simple response came back: new business models that would shift upfront investment into future payments based on municipal cost savings or revenues. The difficulty of engineering this across a solution that that comprises multiple vendors, each with different sensitivities, was ignored. Again, however, these discussions were well divorced from typical consumer dynamics.

Noting the Developer Summit’s move away from consumer topics isn’t meant as an indictment of the event. Quite the opposite. It was never clear that AT&T needed to drive development of consumer applications and that, even if it was successful, the efforts would actually benefit AT&T any more than its competitors. At the same time, a recurring theme in the industry lately has been the need to drive developers towards industrial and B2B spaces in the face of all the hype surrounding consumer applications; we heard this at Cisco’s IoT World Forum last month and it’s the key message behind GE’s “What’s the Matter with Owen” ad campaign. Against this backdrop, what better place to convert would-be consumer app developers into B2B-focused developers than CES?

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