Although most current smartwatches have a codependent relationship with smartphones, that won’t always be the case. A handful of smartwatches already exist with their very own SIM cards and corresponding phone numbers. The same goes for LTE-enabled tablets. As these types of devices become more common, carriers are running into a problem with customers who don’t want to have two phone numbers: one for their wearables and another for their phones. Now, it seems that AT&T has solved the issue with its new NumberSync service. T-Mobile and Sprint also have services in the works.
Updated on 10-15-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added statements from Sprint and T-Mobile that they, too, are working on a similar service.
It’s no secret that AT&T has been working on a method to allow users with multiple LTE-enabled devices to share the same phone number, but now AT&T has officially told Re/code that its NumberSync tech is almost ready for prime time. The carrier will launch NumberSync on “an initial device ‘fairly soon’ with additional devices coming later this year,” Re/code reports. The “initial device” is most likely the new LG Watch Urbane LTE Digital Trends recently saw at an event in NYC.
Shortly after the report appeared, T-Mobile and Sprint both told Re/Code that they, too, are working on a service that will allow users with multiple connected devices to use the same phone number.
“What we are working on will make this version one offering from AT&T look small,” T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert said. “Our strategy is to ask customers what they want and need, and then build it. AT&T’s is to build or buy things, and then try to convince customers they asked for it.”
Sprint also replied with its own statement, leaving Verizon as the only major U.S. carrier to abstain from hinting at its plans. “At this time, Sprint is exploring offering a service that would allow a customer’s smartphone, tablet and other devices to share a single phone number,” Sprint said. “Innovation is at the core of our business. We will provide additional details at a later time.”
Why does it matter?
Many high-end tablets like the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and several others from Samsung often offer LTE, and with NumberSync, they’d have the same number as your smartphone — even if your phone was turned off or out of range. Although its ability to work with tablets is certainly cool, AT&T admits that smartwatches with their own SIM cards are really the driving force behind the NumberSync service. After all, nobody wants to have two phone numbers and have to tell people, “Call me on my watch — I don’t have my phone with me.”
“This is really a first in the industry that we are giving customers the ability to do this,” AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie told the site, adding that, “For us to really have the wearable space explode … those devices have to work in concert with each other.”
Luckily, the new tech should work on most existing smartphones after a software update. AT&T’s eventual goal is to convince all manufacturers to support NumberSync in the coming years. AT&T won’t even charge extra if customers want to share one number on multiple devices, though it will charge the standard per-device fee of about $5 or $10, so that the devices can all connect to AT&T’s shared data plan.
AT&T also hinted that the same tech could be used in connected cars, though that’s further down the line. The carrier more or less regards NumberSync as a technology that will make communicating on a number of connected devices more seamless for customers. There’s no firm release date for the service, but we expect to see it soon. If the second LG Watch Urbane LTE is indeed the launch partner, we could see it as early as this November. Details from other carriers are unknown at this point.
We’ll keep you updated on the news here.