AT&T's Lurie talks IoT leadership, 5G hype and drops hints about mobile video future

glenn lurie AT&T

Glenn Lurie

with Glenn Lurie, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility

At last week's 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Internet of Things was one of the hottest topics around. And the divide between AT&T (NYSE: T) and its competitors in the IoT space became even more evident as the company announced yet another deal with a car maker to embed its LTE modules, bringing its total number of deals with automobile OEMs to nine out of the 16 major car makers globally. And, perhaps even more importantly, AT&T announced a partnership several other heavyweights including Cisco, Ericsson, GE, Qualcomm, Deloitte, Intel and more to develop a framework for smart cities that will make it easier for cities to be connected. The group also named three cities that will be testbeds for this effort, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas.

The early champion behind AT&T's IoT efforts is Glenn Lurie, the former head of the company's emerging devices business and the current president and CEO of AT&T Mobility. Lurie sat down with Sue Marek, editor in chief, in Las Vegas to talk about the company's IoT efforts, the formation of the Smart Cities Alliance and its highly anticipated mobile video play. The following is an edited excerpt of their chat.

FierceWireless: How do you see smart cities coming together in a platform that is usable and can bring together all the disparate elements of a city like water, power and transportation?

Glenn Lurie: You and I had a similar conversation about automotive a few years ago. It's really the same playbook. The mayors are a lot more willing to try to figure out what to do today than the automakers were five years ago.

You've seen our success in automotive and our ability to get in there and bring partners with us and to say "how do we help you?" We haven't bought anybody. What we did is build our Drive platform and go be the best partner we can to these automobile OEMs. We brought the power of partnerships and alliances with us and sat down and asked where do you need help?

We are sitting back and leading the industry in IoT and doing 1.6 million in IoT and cars last quarter. We have the capabilities and we have the platforms that we built that gives us an advantage. Automotive was not just about connections, it was about solutions. Smart cities is the same way. It's about lighting, energy and traffic and all those things.

This feels similar, and when you dedicate a team and put together a platform and bring together the right partners, we can get it done. 

We mentioned three cities today and we want to go prove that these things make the city a better place and have a payoff. They truly do make traffic better, they do make a city more efficient and make energy consumption less. I think with partners like Qualcomm, Ericsson, GE and Deloitte we will go in there together.

We announced three cities but we are talking to many, many more cities, and cities outside the U.S. These three cities were fully committed and wanted to go fast.

FierceWireless: Do you think other operators can touch you with what you have done in IoT? T-Mobile CEO John Legere recently said that his company is going to enter the IoT space with a groundbreaking new offering.

Lurie: Of course I watch what they do. But competition to AT&T has changed in the past year. We have to look at the cablecos, we have to watch the broadband companies.

FierceWireless: Are you more concerned about the cable competitors and broadband competitors than the wireless competitors?

Lurie: AT&T decided eight years ago that we wanted to take a lead in this space. We have platforms that are hard to replicate. We have experience that is impossible to replicate. We have built a reputation of being a very good partner that is honest and fair in this space. We have a massive lead in this space because of those things. Those are very important.

We also have the right partnerships. We announced a new car deal today with Ford and renewed our deal with BMW. We will announce more very shortly.

The team has done a phenomenal job putting us in this position. The 300 deals we did in 2015 in the industrial Internet of Things just shows the power of what Ralph de la Vega has done with the business solutions team and how they worked hand-in-hand with the IoT team. Every business in the world wants to know how to get better and more efficient, and IoT is a huge part of that.

There are lots of people that make lots of statements. I would argue that the statements that we have made and the commitments we have done have been pretty accurate.

Those kind of assets are more important than throwing out claims you will blow up a market that are you aren't in … at all.

FierceWireless: We know AT&T is working on a mobile video product. What is your vision? What do you think consumers want? [Editor's Note: This conversation happed before AT&T announced its new unlimited data product for DirecTV customers.]

Lurie: Consumers want their content when and where and on any device. There is no one in the U.S. that can deliver what we can. We have the most successful wireless business and we are the largest linear TV provider in the U.S., which brings a lot of assets. We have a lot of subscribers, which helps when negotiating for content. We have incredible assets and we know that video and mobility is the future. 

FierceWireless: How are you going to deliver video over mobile and not jeopardize quality? We know video requires a lot of bandwidth on the wireless network.

Lurie: You have to be careful. There is only one player that I know that has degraded the quality. We haven't made announcements yet. It has to be focused on what the consumer wants. Randall is clear we are going to come out with something that is a game changer and we will use all our assets. No one is close to having our assets. Competitors on the mobile side are mobile only. Competitors on the cable side don't have wireless.

FierceWireless: Unless you consider the cable companies' Wi-Fi assets.

Lurie: Like I said, they don't have wireless. They don't have wide-area wireless. Wi-Fi is important and is part of what we do, but it is complementary, not standalone.

We have just touched on what we can do with DTV in the fold for a short time. Half the usage on our network is already video. We haven't maximized this asset yet but we are doing better than most of the others.

We are just getting started. When the DTV deal was finished, we launched offers immediately that included smartphones and TVs for one price. We started cross selling. It's working pretty well. But we have scratched the surface of where we are going to go.

FierceWireless: Where is the smartphone going? You were involved in the original iPhone deal back in 2007. Is there innovation left for the smartphone?

Lurie: This year was an interesting year from the different shares of the different players. Lots of players are trying to figure out that next innovation. Is it thinner? Is it the phablet? I think the smartphone will be around for a long time. It is center to our world and I don't see that changing. But the things around it -- the types of things it can do -- that will change. The processors it will have, the battery life, those things will improve. 

FierceWireless: Let's talk about 5G. Why do you think it's overhyped already?

Lurie: We don't think it's necessary to hype something when the 3GPP standard won't be done for another couple of years. What concerns me about that is we've done an incredible job of building a 4G network and it's performing well. Hyping 5G because others around the world are doing it is not the right thing to do. We don't want to overpromise and under-deliver.

Will 5G be incredible? Well there's no standard yet. But when you think about what is being talked about with speeds, latency and a low-power layer, it is exciting and we are excited about it. We feel good about the work we are doing on it.