Shared data, bifurcated billing expand embedded wireless market

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LAS VEGAS--Shared data plans have helped to grow the connected device space, argued Nicholas DiCarlo, vice president of product planning and product marketing for Samsung in the United States. "Shared data plans are important enablers," he said, noting that such plans could make it easier for customers to purchase and use Samsung's 3G-capable digital cameras.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) last year introduced shared data plans that allow families and other groups to pool their monthly data allotments. Customers can add additional devices to their shared data bucket for relatively inexpensive fees; for example, a tablet costs $10 per month to add to a shared plan from AT&T or Verizon.

"It's very exciting to have them (shared data plans)," said Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T's emerging devices organization. Penrose DiCarlo made their comments here at the FierceWireless Embedded Wireless Devices breakfast, held in conjunction with the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

"We're seeing people buying bigger buckets of (shared) data than we initially expected," added Penrose.

However, Penrose said AT&T is carefully approaching the market for connected devices, and evaluating each new service independently. For example, he said AT&T's new Digital Life home automation system isn't tied to the carrier's shared data plans because it wouldn't make sense for the carrier's customers to do so.

"We have to take a look at the plans," Penrose said. "What we need to do for consumers is make it really easy."

Samsung's DiCarlo agreed, noting that "there's a lot of complexity in how to make all that work." He said Samsung has refrigerators and other wireless-capable appliances, but that it might make more sense for a user to connect those devices via Wi-Fi rather than to a cellular network.

John Horn, president of Raco Wireless and the former chief of T-Mobile USA's M2M business, said that wireless service should be embedded into the business model of M2M services.

AT&T's Penrose agreed, noting that "the Kindle is a great example of how it just works." Wireless ebook downloads on Amazon's Kindle don't require a monthly service plan; the connection fees are built into the price of the device.

Interestingly, Penrose said that AT&T is working carefully to break open the connected car market, where vehicles could connect to wireless networks for a wide range of automotive and entertainment services. He said AT&T now offers "bifurcated billing," where the carrier can bill for separate services occurring on the same SIM card. For example, he said AT&T can bill automobile makers for software downloads to a vehicle while separately billing the vehicle's owner for a navigation service.

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