Mobile broadband owes much of its explosive growth to smartphones and netbooks. But another segment is increasingly contributing to wireless broadband and it has implications for all broadband carriers. The growth of connected devices to the broadband network is on the rise, as AT&T points out in their latest press release.

AT&T added 900K so called connected devices to its wireless network last quarter alone, and now counts 6.7 million in total. A little over half, or 3.4 million, of those devices were added in the past three quarters, illustrating the accelerating pace of connection.  Connected devices include both consumer electronics, including eReaders, digital picture frames, and personal GPS devices, as well as the machine-to-machine category, which includes smart grid connectivity.

These connected devices demonstrate that broadband is more than just about smartphones, netbooks/laptops, and PCs. Indeed broadband connectivity is becoming pervasive in everyday life and its business model is evolving beyond just Internet access for homes and businesses.

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AT&T sees emerging categories that will help fuel the connected device trend including healthcare, where connectivity is extended all the way to ‘pill caps’ to “help patients take medications regularly through a series of reminders, including light, sound, text message and phone call alerts if the cap is not opened as scheduled.” AT&T has set up an emerging devices business unit to capitalize on this trend.

This trend reminds us that broadband connectivity is evolving into a value added service that goes well beyond just selling fast Internet pipes to end customers. Its utility is being extended into areas beyond web surfing and email, and thus extending its reach with potentially all customers, regardless of whether we think they ‘need or want’ broadband.

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