AT&T's (NYSE: T) story is already well-known. After a long antitrust case, the U.S. government forced the original AT&T to divest its regional operations into seven "Baby Bells" in the early 1980s. One of those Baby Bells, Southwestern Bell (later known as SBC), eventually acquired the smaller AT&T and became the "new" AT&T in 2005.
AT&T became the second largest wireless service provider and largest wireline service provider in America, as well as its biggest pay-TV provider, thanks to its acquisition of DirecTV in 2015. If its proposed acquisition of Time Warner is approved, it will also become one of the world's biggest media companies.
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Today, we'll examine five lesser-known facts about AT&T that may change your perception of this evolving telecom company.
1. It's testing out drones with Intel and Qualcomm
Last February, AT&T partnered with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) to test autonomous drones on its LTE network. At last year's Mobile World Congress, Intel demonstrated those capabilities with the Yuneec Typhoon H drone, which streams video and telematics over AT&T's network.
In September, Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) also partnered with AT&T to test drones powered by its Snapdragon Flight platform across its LTE network. Qualcomm claims that these tests could prepare various industries for a "wide-scale deployment" of automated drones.
2. It plans to connect millions of Ford vehicles
Last January, AT&T claimed that it could connect "at least" ten million of Ford's SYNC Connect vehicles to the internet by 2020. The SYNC Connect platform lets drivers remotely lock and unlock doors, locate their vehicles via GPS, remotely start their vehicles, and view key stats like fuel, battery, and tire pressure levels on a companion app.
That partnership complements AT&T's other investments in the connected car space, which include the development of the AT&T Drive Studio innovation center in Atlanta and a new automotive development platform called AT&T Drive. Those investments enable it to gradually diversify its wireless business away from smartphones.
3. Its call records go back three decades
AT&T officially claims that it only retains call detail records for five years for law enforcement purposes. However, a New York Times report from 2013 claims that AT&T retains the details for every call, text message, Skype chat, or other communications which have passed through its network since 1987.
That secretive project, called Project Hemisphere, is reportedly funded by the U.S. government. AT&T employees are reportedly placed in drug-fighting units across the country to supply DEA agents and detectives with detailed communication records.
4. It's partnered with Amazon's AWS
Last October, AT&T announced a multi-year partnership with Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Web Services (AWS), the biggest cloud platform in the world. That partnership focuses on business networking, which links AT&T's NetBond cloud networking ecosystem with AWS; Internet of Things devices, which link gadgets across AT&T's network to AWS; and cybersecurity services, which merges the two companies' security features to counter cyberattacks.
This partnership complements AT&T's investments in drones and cars, tightens its grip on existing enterprise customers, and offsets the gradual downsizing of its own wireline business and data centers. It also complements AT&T's deals with IBM and Oracle, which agreed to take over some of its managed services and databases.
5. It was sued by Citigroup in a bizarre trademark case
Last June, Citigroup (NYSE: C) sued AT&T for trademark infringement, false designation of origins, and unfair competition. The bizarre case focused on AT&T's new loyalty program called "AT&T Thanks", which Citigroup claimed could be confused with its own "ThankYou" and "Citi ThankYou" trademarks for its rewards programs.
A court dismissed the case just two months later, with the judge ruling that customers were unlikely to confuse AT&T with Citigroup -- since they were in clearly different industries -- and that customers "can readily distinguish between such marks without confusion."
The key takeaways
Some investors might simply see AT&T as a slow-growth income play, but it has many other moving parts which shouldn't be overlooked. Drones and connected cars could reduce its dependence on the slow-growth wireless market, privacy and security concerns may present challenges in the near future, and a tighter partnership with AWS could keep it relevant in the evolving public cloud market without its own first-party cloud platform.
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Leo Sun owns shares of Amazon, AT&T, Ford, and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Ford, and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Time Warner. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.