AT&T Mobility CEO: Smartwatches will soon have their own cell connections

That's the only way they'll solve real problems, says Glenn Lurie, speaking at the Code Mobile conference. He also notes that the iPhone 6S has sold well.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
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Recode's Ina Fried (left) interviews AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie at the Code Mobile conference. Shara Tibken/CNET

HALF MOON BAY, California -- That smartwatch on your wrist may soon have a cellular connection -- at least if AT&T Mobility's CEO is correct.

Glenn Lurie, speaking Wednesday at the Code Mobile conference here in Half Moon Bay, predicted most smartwatches soon will be able to operate independently from smartphones -- something that would benefit AT&T.

"When you're thinking about trying to solve real problems, I think the device [smartwatch] has to be connected," Lurie said.

Samsung introduced the Gear S last year with a 3G connection, but the device didn't sell well. Apple, meanwhile, didn't include wireless connectivity in its Apple Watch. And when Apple's smartwatch first launched, it couldn't even run third-party apps on the device itself, relying instead on the iPhone for connectivity and functionality.

Part of the reason most smartwatches don't have cellular connections is the battery life. Add in a 3G or even 4G connection, and users have to recharge their devices more often. Lurie said that eventually won't be an issue.

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"Long term you'll see more and more fitness devices becoming independent," he said. "It's gone slower than I would have liked...but a year or so from now, the majority of devices out there will be fully connected."

As the smartphone market begins to mature, the wireless industry has been increasingly looking at connecting other devices -- cars, garbage cans and dog collars -- as the new area of growth. Lurie made his name by pushing AT&T to sign deals with new partners, getting his company into new areas such as connected cars.

In August 2014, Lurie was promoted to CEO of Atlanta-based AT&T Mobility, although he continued to report to Ralph de la Vega, the CEO of AT&T's broader mobility and enterprise businesses. Since then, he's largely been the face of AT&T's mobile efforts and has focused much of his comments on the Internet of Things, or the idea that virtually every object can be connected and talk to each other.

AT&T is the nation's second largest carrier, but it faces increasing competitive pressure from T-Mobile and Sprint. Both of the smaller carriers have been aggressive in rolling out new offers and incentives to switch, and AT&T has struggled to add phone customers over the last several quarters.

Lurie on Wednesday said the future of AT&T is mobile and video, which is why it bought satellite TV provider DirecTV. Half the usage on AT&T's network already is video.

"The reality is that smartphone or that tablet sitting in your lap, that's the TV of the future," Lurie said.

Lurie also said the iPhone 6S launch was "great" and "it's done incredibly well." He added that the launch "was really quiet" and "smooth." And Lurie said AT&T isn't worried about Apple's iPhone leasing plan, which allows customers to upgrade their phones every year.

"We have no concerns about what they're trying to do," he said.

--CNET's Roger Cheng contributed to this report.