We have recently covered how AT&T are working on releasing a new service for their network called NumberSync. NumberSync will allow an AT&T customer to use the same phone number across multiple devices, without these devices being in connection with one another. We now know that the other larger US carriers, including T-Mobile US and Sprint, are also working on similar technologies, designed to provide their customer with one number across a portfolio of devices. The idea behind this technology is that it means customers can leave their smartphone behind but still be able to make and receive calls, text messages and use their data plan via their other devices – which we would currently expect to be a smartwatch and a tablet, but perhaps these could change. Currently, there are relatively few smartwatches with onboard modems such as the Urbane LTE, shown above. However, there are many tablets with onboard 3G or LTE modems. Although, when it comes to smartwatches one of the reasons why manufacturers have not released a watch with an onboard data connection is simply because the mobile networks do not have the necessary infrastructure to make this useful: having a smartwatch with a different number for voice calling is less handy for the customer.
From the perspective of the carriers, adding this functionality to their existing network will help them provide a better service for the millions of customers with multiple devices. As already alluded, the technology will make it much easier for customers to own and use multiple devices seamlessly without having to tell the technology where to put incoming voice calls. As more wearable technology comes with an onboard modem, as our cars become connected, the technology will become more and more useful. However, it does need to be easy to use, as well as useful. The carriers are simply preparing their networks to cope with the expected influx of customers with multiple devices. The market is expected to grow considerably – by 2020, it's estimated that 155 million wearable devices will ship across the world. If many or the majority of these devices come with onboard modems, customers will want to be adding these to their existing plans. This will translate to more revenue for the carriers.
The carriers will be able to charge additional fees to add connected wearable devices to an existing plan – AT&T currently charges $10 a month to add network functionality to a wearable device – so even though using NumberSync is free, the underlying connection may not be, which customers will need in order to use the NumberSync feature. This will increase the average revenue per customer (and not per device), which is good news for carriers. Of course, the other side effect is that customers will start using more data, which means they will be wanting to move to a higher data allowance package and this will increase their monthly plan costs. We are already seeing a small impact here with the current generation of dependent smartwatches – Android Wear requires an amount of data when you use it – but as wearable technology becomes more sophisticated, and independent of the connection via the smartphone, customer usage will expand. Currently, the average monthly data per customer, is around 2.5 GB, but this is expected to expand to 14 GB in just five years. Some of which will be driven by the use of connected wearable technology.