Our 'Untraditional' Entrepreneur Takes Risks, Helps Cities Get Smart

Communications /

Michael Zeto shares how he joined AT&T’s Smart Cities - one that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology strategically to create a more livable, safer, efficient and sustainable city.

By Chris Morgan, AT&T Insider Staff Writer

Michael Zeto was the kind of kid who started his own lawn-mowing business. And sold it. He grew up and started his own software company. And sold it.

So when Michael was offered a job here, his first thought was "I don't want to go work for a telco." But then he decided on another risky move – at least for him: accept the job at AT&T and be part of a team to acquire a new business or build a startup. Internet of Things was taking off, and Michael decided on smart cities.

Here's Michael's definition of a smart city: one that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology strategically to create a more livable, safer, efficient and sustainable city. For instance, maintenance crews can use sensors on bridges to detect when they need repairs. Or drivers can be notified in near-real time if a traffic light isn't working on their routes.

As the leader of AT&T Smart Cities, Michael now thinks he has one of the greatest jobs in the world. But it's not without its challenges.

When it comes to leading the smart cities charge at AT&T, was it helpful to you to have had your own company?

Yeah, definitely. I was coming from the outside and I said I would do it very lean. My team is strong. And they are small – in comparison to AT&T – but they are dedicated. They are committed, passionate about what they are doing.

We went out on a limb to start this. And the way we did it – lean – was not the traditional way, so it took an untraditional person coming into AT&T to take that and run with it.

How else are you a nontraditional person?

I'm not a fraternity guy. I pave my own way. And I do that through taking some educated risks.

When's the last time you've taken a risk?

Coming to AT&T. I had never worked for a company that was this complex. I thought it was going to put me in a great position just from a learning-experience perspective.

And it could be a great opportunity with a lot of upside, if everything went the way it was supposed to. And it did.

Are we even at the point where we understand what smart cities can do?

I think we understand the potential of it. The execution is just difficult. To truly become a smart city, you have to touch so many different assets, from light poles to water mains to fire hydrants to garbage cans to traffic lights, right? And then you have to be patient with the revenues because you are dealing with cities.

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Let's put it that way.

You hear a lot about smart lighting when it comes to smart cities. How important is the lighting?

Lighting's foundational. If you think of one thing that you see in every city across the world, it's a light pole. That vertical asset becomes instrumental. It can be utilized with cameras, environmental sensors and audio sensors.

How important is our future 5G network to our smart cities work?

A big part of what a smart city will become is going to be enabled by 5G. We will also have the ability to associate 5G with that light pole. That will help us get from smart cities 1.0 to 2.0 and then 3.0, which may be when everything is autonomous and there are drones flying around. It may be that Jetsons vision that I think everybody has.