AT&T wants more wireless gadgets

/ Source: The Associated Press

Latching on to a trend in the wireless industry, AT&T Inc. said Wednesday it has started an initiative to encourage manufacturers to create more non-phone gadgets that connect to its wireless network.

The country's largest wireless carrier said it is looking to expand its reach into computers, digital cameras and in-car entertainment and navigation systems. A digital camera with a built-in wireless connection could e-mail pictures as soon as they're shot, and a wireless GPS system can download traffic updates.

AT&T appointed Glenn Lurie to head the Emerging Devices initiative. He previously led the negotiations with Apple Inc. that made the iPhone exclusive to AT&T in the U.S., the company said.

Wireless gadgets that aren't phones are already common — OnStar-equipped cars use Verizon Wireless' network, for instance — but all the big U.S. carriers see plenty of growth left in the field. Inc. made a big splash last year with the Kindle, an e-book reader that downloads books over Sprint Nextel Corp.'s network. T-Mobile USA is bringing out a digital picture frame that receives picture messages from phones. A month ago, a startup named Peek Inc. launched a BlackBerry-like device that uses T-Mobile's network to send and receive e-mails. Laptops are already available with built-in cellular broadband cards.

The carriers are taking different approaches to non-phone gadgets, with various degrees of involvement. A Kindle customer need never deal with Sprint, but AT&T is apparently envisioning a more active role for itself. It said it wants to use its 2,000 stores, plus its agreements with retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to sell connected gadgets.