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Inside AT&T's Plans to Be Everywhere You Are in 2016

Auto, Healthcare, Connected-Device Categories Top List of Initiatives

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In 2016, AT&T is working, essentially, to be everywhere people are. On Tuesday at its Developer Summit, which runs alongside the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it laid out a slew of announcements in the auto, healthcare and connected-device categories.

For starters, it offered more details on an ambitious "smart cities" endeavor originally announced in October that the company says could improve the way cities operate and how citizens interact with them. AT&T also announced that it was partnering with Ford to bring its 4G LTE network to 10 million Ford cars by 2020. On the connected lifestyle front, AT&T said it is working on a voice assistant like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, which will be available in app form in the first half of the year.

AT&T Mobility CMO David Christopher told Ad Age that AT&T for years has been focused on investing "where the puck is going….we view our smartphone base as the catalyst that allows us to invest in all sorts of areas, including the Internet of Things, connected homes, cars and smart cities. We view these as having tremendous potential to help peoples' lives. And it's exciting for the brand because it allows us to extend what we do into all these nascent but incredibly exciting areas." Investments in new areas, he added, "allow us to differentiate from the competition."

One of the primary points of interest for attendees of CES is everything cars. Automakers' presence at CES has grown in recent years, and part of that presence includes partnerships. AT&T's announcement with Ford, dubbed Ford Sync Connect, aims to connect car owners with their vehicles from anywhere through the built-in AT&T network. Users will be able to unlock doors, check fuel level, locate a parked vehicle and more.

The digital Siri-like assistant is for customers of Digital Life, AT&T's push to offer smart home Internet of Things technology including connected lights, thermostats and home security. Multiple companies aside from Apple and Microsoft are working on mastering the assistant game, including Google with Now and Amazon with Alexa. Users will be able to ask the assistant a number of things, including whether they locked their doors or armed the alarm system.

For its Smart Cities initiative, AT&T announced Tuesday partnerships with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM (which also has its own smart cities initiative), Intel, Qualcomm. Initial cities involved are Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. The company said its partnerships will facilitate a series of ambitious projects to make cities more efficient, including smart sensors that can detect water leaks, using connected technology to improve safety from both a crime perspective and in case of a natural disaster.

AT&T, being the No. 2 network, has scale on its side when it comes to rolling out smart city initiatives across the country. But it takes a major effort to coordinate, and Glenn Lurie, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, said Tuesday that the company is offering complete solutions including advising on the endeavors, hardware and software integration and a simple interface, the latter of which Mr. Lurie said will come easily because the company has the resources and experience and success with the Internet of Things.

In terms of marketing for the Ford and assistant announcements, Mr. Christopher said AT&T often markets those types of offerings at the retail level. "We for years have said that the smartphone is the remote control of your life. We dramatize that in our marketing, particularly in-store." He added that AT&T's associates generate interest in those services by talking to customers "in everyday language that customers can understand."