Qualcomm, Ericsson and AT&T execs tout wearables, neuromorphic computing and more

LAS VEGAS--Where will all the innovation in mobile take us next? According to top executives from Ericsson, Qualcomm and AT&T, the future of mobile will be dominated by wearable wireless devices and neuromorphic computers that mimic the human brain.  

During a wide-ranging panel discussion here at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs told the audience that he is a big believer in neuromorphic computing, or brainlike computers, that can do very sophisticated things like analyze and react. "What if you could build brains with silicon?" Jacobs asked, noting that there are ways to get computers to recognize, react and do very sophisticated tasks.

Likewise, John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T's (NYSE:T) technology and network operations, talked about what he called the "fourth wave of wireless," in which machines are talking to machines and he no longer has to program separate devices to do because they will already know.  "I'd like machines to be talking to machines without me," Donovan said. "I shouldn't need a separate programming exercise in my car to get my TV content in there."

Jacobs also admitted that he's a huge believer in wearable devices, which is not particularly surprising as Qualcomm last fall released the smart watch Toq. Jacobs said that he thinks wearables allow users to continuously interact with the world and that soon sensors will be integrated into human bodies.  In fact, Jacobs noted that there is currently a sensor device being tested that once injected into a person's bloodstream can predict a heart attack two weeks before it happens.

Donovan and fellow panelist Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg also are bullish on wearables. In fact, Vestberg noted that back in 2010 many in the wireless industry scoffed at Ericsson's predictions that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. "People are not doubting that now," Vestberg said.

Interestingly, Donovan also said that he believes AT&T operates more like a software company than a network operator. "This is the business of providing solutions to customers," he said. "We help people create…we enable the network so they can create," he added.

The transition from network operator to software firm is not only impacting how AT&T does business but also how network infrastructure firms like Ericsson interact with their clients as well. Vestberg said that not too long ago  Ericsson's operator customers operated alike and bought the same types of services and products. However, now carriers are now embracing all types of business strategies and Ericsson must be much more nimble. "There are some operators that are going to optimize their networks and that's all they will do.  Others want to embrace entire industries," he said. "And it's changing how customers are investing."

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