The telecom company says it is taking what it learned from RFID trials it performed last year and growing its base of managed services using RFID and sensors.
March 28, 2007-In 2007, AT&T stuck its toe into the RFID services pond through pilot tests it deployed as managed services offerings for three of its customers. The goal of the project was to deploy an end-to-end RFID system for AT&T customers in a manner that would enable the company to leverage its existing professional services, as well as managed LAN and wireless LAN services (see AT&T Rolls Out Managed RFID Service).
AT&T worked with Intel, BEA Systems and Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business division (formerly Symbol Technologies) to create the solution. "We learned [from those pilots] that the technology generally works," says Ebrahim Keshavarz, vice president of new services development at AT&T, "and there is an ROI for the companies that we worked with."
Armed with this experience, AT&T is now rolling out three managed services solutions that leverage RFID and sensor technology, Keshavarz says. All three have a foundation in AT&T's Internet data centers and managed services expertise, as well as the integrated Global Enterprise Management System (iGEMS), the company's network-management platform.
The first of these offerings, Mobile Resource Management for tracking vehicles, is targeted at companies that maintain a fleet of trucks or vehicles. Such firms include utilities, logistics companies and large retailers that manufacture and distribute goods.
GPS receivers inside each vehicle collect location data, which is then sent to fleet managers via a cellular network connection. Sensors throughout the vehicle send data through the cellular network as well. As such, in addition to location tracking, the application can also provide the speed at which vehicles are moving, and other data such as the condition of their engines. This solution is powered by the AT&T nationwide wireless data network and sensors from a variety of sources.
With the second offering, RFID Asset Visibility, companies can track valuable assets using active RFID tags and software provided by AeroScout. The tags operate in the 2.45 GHz range over the 802.11 Wi-Fi protocol, allowing companies to use their existing networks of Wi-Fi access points to collect the tag data and send it to AeroScout software, which provides a visual map of the tagged goods and can send alerts if certain goods are removed fro designated areas. Keshavarz says AT&T plans to focus on its customers in the health-care industry when marketing this product, as asset visibility within hospital settings is a growing application of the technology.
Thirdly, the AT&T managed passive RFID solution, will enable customers to deploy a passive RFID network for applications such as receiving and authenticating consumable products, as well as for inventory control.
AT&T will continue working with Intel, BEA Systems and Motorola for all three offerings, building on the experience it garnered through its pilot tests last year. Keshavarz says he believes there will be a lot of interest in these RFID and sensor-based offerings.
"I think our customers see value in end-to-end systems, and they trust the [AT&T] brand," Keshavarz says. "Plus, because it is a managed service, it's more economical for them" since they do not require substantial investments in equipment or in-house expertise.
Still, he notes, the pilot work AT&T performed last year revealed some bumps in the road that must be addressed. "There is a lack of standards for device management," he says, "and enterprise database integration is going to be a growing concern. Plus, we've found that the investment is borne by a single business unit of a company, but return is spread out over the enterprise. So, we've come up against some of the customers' internal struggles over who should fund the technology."