AT&T's network core is growing up to serve watches, IoT

Technology adopted for voice over LTE helps make wearables and connected devices work

Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technologies at AT&T.

Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technologies at AT&T.

Back-end technology that AT&T implemented partly for VoLTE (voice over LTE) will help make the Apple Watch and other connected devices useful.

The IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) platform that is helping AT&T carry packet-based voice calls will play a crucial role in the growing IoT (Internet of Things), especially wearables and home gadgets, by letting more than one device use the same identity on the network, said Kris Rinne, AT&T's senior vice president of network technologies. She spoke in an interview at the CTIA show in Las Vegas.

That's how, for example, consumers can wear just a smart watch out on a run and receive their text messages as if they were carrying the phone they've left at home, she said. IMS also makes it possible to link numerous locally connected home devices, such as thermostats and health sensors, to the cellular network via a smartphone or gateway device.

There are already smart watches on AT&T's network, including the Filip locator and communicator for children, which talks directly to the cellular network. The carrier announced a new version of the Filip in Las Vegas on Monday. It also announced an in-home monitoring service for elderly and disabled people, Digital Life Care, that's based on its Digital Life connected-home platform. Digital Life Care is scheduled to come to consumers next year.

At one time, cellular carriers simply served each subscriber with one phone, but in the past several years carriers have been bringing other types of clients online, both for enterprises and for consumers. The IMS architecture was AT&T's solution to handle device authentication and validation, identity and session management for those devices. IMS has been around in some form for several years and was designed in part to make it easier to introduce new services on both wired and wireless networks.

The types of issues that AT&T's IMS architecture is starting to solve will be crucial for the growth of IoT, Rinne said. Connected devices are nothing new -- AT&T started its Emerging Devices Organization eight years ago -- but work continues as IoT grows. The just-emerging 5G technology, successor to 4G that's expected to arrive around 2020, should also help by fostering a "network of networks," Rinne said. "It's a constant evolution of solving."

Though the spotlight Tuesday was on Apple and its new hardware, carriers can bring more than just bits and coverage to the equation, according to Rinne. AT&T expects to add to consumers' wearables experience through cloud-based services and location capabilities, she said.

AT&T introduced VoLTE in four states in May.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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