AT&T Sponsored Data partner Syntonic Wireless to launch 'toll-free' content store

AT&T Mobility's (NYSE: T) Sponsored Data program is getting another shot in the arm with the rollout of a content store with links to popular e-commerce, sports, news and other websites. When users visit the links, the resulting data access costs will not be counted toward their monthly data allotment.

The content store, from startup Syntonic Wireless, is the latest effort by an AT&T partner to test the waters on the carrier's Sponsored Data program, which AT&T unveiled in January but which has not yet attracted big-name partners.

The content store is currently in a closed beta test, which will start next week for Android smartphone users. Syntonic is currently inviting people to register for access. An iOS and tablet version of the store will be rolled out over the next few weeks. The store will be available to eligible AT&T postpaid or session-based subscribers.

Syntonic CEO Gary Greenbaum said the beta "gives us an opportunity to figure out what consumers actually want to consume from a sponsored [data] perspective." The company will be measuring things like incremental new click-through rates as a result of sponsorship, transaction rates that may be increased as a result of sponsored data, and conversions of people from freemium to premium versions of apps, especially for media companies.

Greenbaum said the company hopes to commercially launch the store next month with "a critical mass of sponsored content."

The Syntonic store, which runs on the company's cloud-based "Connected Services Platform," currently contains 35 different pieces of content. The store's categories include shopping, sports, travel, dating, lifestyle, social, entertainment and news, and magazines. However, the content in the store is not apps, but rather links to mobile websites. That said, the store does contain some big names, including Airbnb, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), eBay, ESPN, Etsy, Expedia, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB),, Open Table, Rolling StoneThe New York Times and Yelp. More companies that want to sponsor users' data usage are expected to be added before and during the commercial launch.

Syntonic's store shows users how much data they have saved.

Greenbaum was vague about how the company's technology actually works, but said that the platform defines what a subscriber should have access to, and the policy of how that content gets tracked and billed is defined by the sponsoring company, which can be a content owner, an employer or another third party. "We then take that policy and translate that into network rules," he said.

Greenbaum said in the future businesses could cover the cost of a user accessing enterprise applications on their devices but not personal ones. Or, he said, the sponsorship could be structured such that if a user buys a certain amount of merchandise from a merchant's online store, that merchant will sponsor a free year of VoIP and over-the-top messaging services.

Sponsored data, he said, "opens up a whole host of commercial models" for mobile data, including subscriptions, data upsells and freemium to premium conversions.

"A lot of this is pretty new," he said. "It's still really about trying to grasp how this works."

AT&T's Sponsored Data program is almost exclusively being used right now by mobile advertising companies that want to subsidize the cost of users' access to mobile video advertisements. Hershey's and Cut the Rope are among those that have been named publicly.

AT&T has noted that Sponsored Data will be delivered at the same speed and performance as any non-Sponsored Data content. However, net neutrality advocates, including representatives from public interest groups, have argued against such toll-free plans, saying that they will favor rich and large content companies over smaller ones.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Re/code article

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