AT&T center to tap into Silicon Valley talent

The Foundry Innovation Center in Palo Alto will help developers create hardware and software

AT&T set up shop in Silicon Valley on Wednesday with its Foundry Development Center in Palo Alto, a facility where software and hardware developers can get help bringing their inventions to the real world.

The site is AT&T's third Foundry Innovation Center, following ones opened earlier this year in Plano, Texas, and in Israel. But the carrier has high hopes for meeting promising startups in the hotbed of U.S. technology.

AT&T wants to free developers from the hassles of dealing with technology on the back end of AT&T's infrastructure, such as billing and location functions, so they can finish their applications and make them work on the network more quickly, said John Donovan, the carrier's CTO.

But the Foundry Innovation Center isn't just for software developers. AT&T is also working with mobile device and infrastructure vendors.

Speaking at the formal grand opening of the center, Donovan emphasized that it is not just a demonstration site or a place for customers to check out cool new products from AT&T.

"This is about where the work gets done," Donovan said.

By working closely with all kinds of developers and making available APIs (application programming interfaces) and SDKs (software development kits), AT&T hopes to get new devices and software onto its network in one-third the time it takes now, Donovan said.

Mobile operators are embracing innovation from outside in order to tap into new uses of mobile data, which are quickly proliferating. AT&T's Palo Alto opening follows a similar move by rival Verizon Wireless in San Francisco last month. Vodafone, which is a partner in Verizon but doesn't offer its own mobile service in the U.S., also opened a development center in Silicon Valley last week.

Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Amdocs are partners with AT&T in the innovation center. There are already 106 projects in the works at the center, including 40 that AT&T itself initiated, Donovan said.

Efforts at the site go beyond traditional mobile applications to include health-care technology and U-Verse TV features that use mobile devices. Among the startups working with AT&T is Mspot, a cloud-based music provider based in Palo Alto. Mspot is developing a way to send a music stream from a mobile phone to a TV through AT&T's U-Verse set-top box. In addition to the SDK, AT&T provided technical assistance with the development kit and solicited Mspot's input about how to make it better, said Aline Yu, Mspot's vice president of marketing. The application is still in early prototype form, she said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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