Alcatel-Lucent's ng Connect program is getting ready to hit the big time ahead of its third anniversary in February, adding new members and preparing for a three-fold expansion in its member base.

The program aims to invent new services and business models that will break wireless operators out of the role of dumb pipe and give them a place in the value chain. But until Wednesday, none of ng Connect's members were carriers.

That changed yesterday when the program added 20 new members, including its first service provider, Indosat, the third largest mobile telecommunications company in Indonesia.

Even though operators are the target of the program, ng Connected waited until now to involve them directly because "we were worried about turning into a sales event," says program chief Jason Collins.

With more than 80 collaborating members on its roster, ng Connect has the scale it needs to bring in the perspective of operators, Collins says.

The program also made it easier to join with a new associate membership that allows companies and entrepreneurs to participate at an entry level. Associate members can network with companies that participate at a higher level but don't participate in the program's concept creation process, which usually requires negotiating disclosures around intellectual property rights, a process that can turn off some companies.

The addition of carriers and the more accessible membership level is expected to help bolster the program's ranks. Collins wants to get ng Connect's membership to between 300 and 400 companies by the end of 2012. 

"I'd like us to become recognized as a real driver in the marketplace for innovative service ideas," Collins says. "We've created a culture that's absolutely right for the innovative ideas the industry needs."

Ng Connect plans to demonstrate that goal at CES in January, where it will demonstrate a fitness program that leverages cloud computing and LTE to track users' progress and an enterprise-centric connected car concept.