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Wireless execs see connected devices as 'next big thing'

The wireless industry could see a $1.2 trillion revenue opportunity out of the connected devices market by 2020, according to Machina Research and the GSM Association.

Wireless industry executives, including AT&T's Glenn Lurie and Qualcomm's Bill Davidson, gathered to talk about the opportunities that come from providing more connected devices.
Roger Cheng/CNET

Hooking up every device to a cellular or wireless connection is the "next big thing" that will drive growth in the industry, according to Glenn Lurie, head of emerging devices for AT&T.

Lurie has been responsible for creating new revenue opportunities by connecting everything from medicine bottles to dog collars at AT&T. He believes the industry is just starting to realize this opportunity.

"Everything that has a current running through it will be connected," Lurie said. "They need to be smarter."

A study conducted by Machina Research and funded by the GSM Association found that the market for connected devices could grow to $1.8 trillion by 2020, with $1.2 trillion as an opportunity that can be addressed by the wireless industry. There are currently 9 billion connected devices this year, a figure that could grow to 24.45 billion by 2020.

Lurie and several other wireless industry executives gathered today to talk about the revenue opportunity that comes from connecting multiple electronic devices. The conference comes a day ahead of the CTIA Enterprise & Applications, which starts tomorrow.

Consumers are driving data consumption, as well as the popularity of data-heavy devices, said Bill Davidson, head of marketing and investor relations for Qualcomm. That runs counter to the industry's prior assumption that business data needs would have driven adoption.

As a result, Davidson said he sees the consumer as a catalyst for industries such as health care, automotive, and utilities to adopt newer data devices.

Lurie said that as the industry moves to connect different devices in the home, or the car or in the office, it needs to keep things simple. He said consumers tend to get nervous about having multiple connected devices--which potentially could lead to multiple bills.

"We've got to make it so it's more simplistic for people to understand," Lurie said. "That's up to us."

The lack of education is the biggest obstacle to customer adoption, he said. Devices such as the Apple iPad and Amazon Kindle have been successful because the cellular connection portion of the device is easy to understand, he added.

Likewise, the GSM said that maintaining common technology standards and consistent practices is key to driving adoption of connected devices. Lurie, for his part, is upbeat.

"We're just getting started on the growth curve," Lurie said.