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AT&T Opening Two Research Centers in Bid to Spur More Innovation

AT&T Inc. is opening research centers in Atlanta and Plano, Texas, part of an attempt to shed its stodgy Ma Bell image by innovating in such areas as home security, inventory tracking and in-car online services.

The two new sites bring its total number of innovation centers to five, the company said today in a statement. The Atlanta location, affiliated with the Georgia Institute of Technology, will focus on wireless products such as Digital Life, a home-security service, as well as Internet-connected car technology. The Plano center expands an existing facility where AT&T has been developing what it calls machine-to-machine services, including cargo and inventory tracking.

AT&T and its technology partners, including Cisco Systems Inc., have spent about $100 million trying to jump-start the development of new products, said Abhi Ingle, the Dallas-based company’s vice president of innovation.

“We are speeding up ideas from research to development by harnessing some innovation from outside,” Ingle said.

AT&T, the largest U.S. telephone company, is counting on new markets to help stimulate sales and offset its 11 percent decline in landline subscribers last year. It’s also confronting slowing wireless customer growth, which had served as the company’s growth engine in recent years. Verizon Wireless ranks first in that market.

The research centers are designed to put the final touches on product ideas developed through a companywide crowdsourcing process, Ingle said. That means AT&T is counting on all its employees to help cultivate ideas, rather than using conventional research-and-development labs.

The company also has research centers, known as foundries, in Israel and Palo Alto, California. There are 71 employees working at the foundries now, and AT&T expects that total to reach 92 by year-end.

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