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Equally important, it's redefined the meaning of speed within the company, and bolstered a willingness to experiment, even if it means failure.

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It's a handpicked brain trust that's helped the company shed some of the bad habits of a large corporation.

"We take on problems that (AT&T) inherently wasn't going to address well because of our size," John Donovan, senior executive vice president of technology and networks for AT&T, said in an interview with CNET.

AT&T, far removed from its roots as a pioneer in communications technology, has spent the last few years bringing back some of that fearlessness in experimenting with new projects -- crucial at a time when all the tech heavy-hitters have shown a willingness to try new things.

At the heart of AT&T's innovation drive is its technology council, responsible for the creation of the foundry and several other key projects within the company.

The technology council is antithetical to the popular perception that AT&T is a slow and lumbering company unable to get even its cell phone reception issues under control.

The group has been able to spark a legion of ideas through a massive crowd-sourcing effort; opened the company up to building more relationships with the startup community; and, yes, even helped to improve the network.

AT&T (s t) is ramping up its courtship of developers with the opening today of the first of three Foundry Innovation Centers in Plano, Texas.

The center, a sort of gifted and talented program for developers, signals AT&T’s increasing willingness to collaborate with app developers as it tries to remain on the cutting edge of consumer and enterprise communications services.

A change of pace AT&T's willingness to look outside for help on projects is a change from its original preference to develop new services and products in-house, relying on its once formidable AT&T Labs business.

Under Ma Bell, it had a massive research and development arm in what is now the Lucent part of Alcatel-Lucent.

All three will look to tackle some broad themes including tele-health, changing the online experience with HTML5 and machine-to-machine applications.

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