The perfect role for operators in IoT?

July 17, 2016

goldThe telecom industry got a head start in the early days of IoT aka M2M. Ericsson took the lead with the 50B connected devices mantra which translated well into an obvious role for huge operators with millions of connected users and massive investments in wireless networks. And it went without saying that the obvious providers of technology and solutions would be the telecom vendors already in the family. This was a clever and well executed plan by primarily Ericsson since the operators were looking for the next massive growth opportunity after having connected most people and given them data buckets. Operators went for it with one primary caveat – we will not only provide connectivity.

Now, only few years later IoT has gone from a connectivity focused baby to a data centric young adult. IoT is only a new phase of Internet – we’re adding things to people and businesses already connected – which explains the speed of development. From a usage point of view, Internet including IoT and the enabled services and solutions will remain customer focused and very fragmented and the operators will continue working hard to figure out their role beyond connectivity.

Here’s what I would do. The two major challenges for IoT are security and privacy. The smaller one is security since we are used to repair and plug holes as we go, and since we tend to have a very short memory. But privacy is really challenging since nobody knows how the requirements will develop over time. When your data is out you can never get it back why any service will need a solid privacy architecture to cope with future requirements without having to rebuild from scratch. The user must own his or her data and decide who should get hold of it.

But privacy is not only a technical issue why we need trusted partners to help us manage our data. Today most of us trust serious banks to manage our financial data as an example. Our trusted partner needs big muscles to force and enforce proper agreements and obviously have to walk the talk themselves. Operators already manage a lot of our private data and provided they do that well, this is a great position to build the trusted partner role on. The trusted partner role can also be required to build and orchestrate a fair and robust sub-eco system in a specific market like smart homes or connected cars.

So why is privacy of importance anyway? Today most users of internet applications sign up without even reading the agreements. One often hear “I’ve nothing to hide” as the key argument to avoid the hassles of reading and thinking. But with today’s capabilities in data analytics, all digital traces and information we leave behind can quite easily be used to picture an individual, understand how a product is designed, see patterns, understand security procedures and arrangements and so on. In the wrong hands this can be really bad and this type of information is already very useful for burglars to know when people are away and industrial espionage for example. A small example of what could, technically, be in use today is recruiters knowing without asking that a female candidate is pregnant, don’t exercise or have a heart problem.

I am absolutely convinced neither consumers nor policymakers will let this development continue as today. And this is where I believe operators with a relevant brand can find their role in IoT beyond connectivity. A role which will be increasingly important and valuable as far out as I can see. Two good examples of operators I see moving in this direction today are Telefonica and Telia Company (see FAQ 6 and 7).

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Different operator approaches will speed up the creation of the Internet of Everything

March 19, 2014

choicesUp until recently most operators had a similar approach to M2M: “it’s a very interesting opportunity, we’ll build a devoted team, we will make or buy a device connectivity platform, we will not be providing only connectivity but we are not ready to go down the verticals so we will build a partner program.” But things are changing. Telenor Connexion went their own way when they decided on a connectivity agnostic strategy to be able to follow their customers over time. Then they acquired the experienced M2M service enabler and developer Iowa in order to help customers from idea to ready to roll solution. And at MWC they announced adding Jasper’s platform to the Ericsson Device Connectivity platform already in use which as far as I know is a unique move. But perfectly in line with their customer centric strategy.

Last week, Tele2 finally announced their M2M strategy and plan at their M2M Talks event in Stockholm. Rami Avidan and his team declared loud and clear that they will provide connectivity and for the rest, work with and through partners. This was as clear and easy to understand as surprising. At the event they introduced a couple of partners including CSL and Wipro – two really well established and strong international players in the field of M2M.

It is promising and interesting that operators are starting to place their M2M bets differently now. With different approaches and offerings we will have more choices and constellations which will serve customers better and speed up the creation of the Internet of Everything.


Plumbing or solutions?

March 6, 2014

PipesDevice connectivity platforms for mobile operators have been discussed for years. There have been two primary platforms on the market – Ericsson and Jasper – with Ericsson more focused on the ability for the operator to manage M2M business efficiently and Jasper having been more focused on adding solution partners to their platform thus to their mobile operator customers. Up until now most mobile operators have had one of these platforms and in many cases an in-house alternative somewhere. But at MWC Telenor Connexion announced that they add Jasper to their Ericsson platform (once acquired from Connexion). According to Per Simonsson, CEO at Telenor Connexion: “Deploying services from the two leading platform providers ensures greater flexibility and enables us to collaborate with new partners and operators in global deployments“. I believe Telenor Connexion has a clever long-term strategy to become technology agnostic when it comes to platforms and bearer technologies in order to get a strong position for global business and to become flexible in supporting customer’s changing needs over time.

This announcement caused some stress here and there since some operators used the situation of being the only Jasper customer in a market as a differentiator. This is of course not a sustainable way to create a position in a market and it was only a matter of time until the opportunity would have been gone anyway.

I have always argued that mobile operators should refrain from a GSM-only approach in M2M and that they should be aware that Jasper’s business model is quite comparable with an MVNO from the operator’s point of view: The operator get some additional traffic but might loose the relationships with partners and customers and once and for all become a pure connectivity provider. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but most mobile operators active in M2M state that they don’t want to become just a connectivity provider. Yesterday I read that Jasper is launching the world’s first commercial end-to-end Global SIM product based on Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) technology. It’s is aimed at the IoT market and will allow enterprises to remotely manage embedded SIMs over the air (OTA).

The ability to change operator over-the-air is a necessity in M2M and I saw a GSMA demo at MWC 2012 demonstrating this. Mobile operators who don’t have the ability to go down the verticals and applications in M2M thus “outsource” partnership and business development, might be stuck with plumbing when the OTA provisioning is in place. I see only two main roads ahead for operators (including the M2M MVNOs): invest and get engaged in applications, solutions and verticals or provide the connectivity. And anyone getting involved in applications and solution, service enablers or operators, need to use a connectivity agnostic approach like Telenor Connexion.


M2M – a glocal business!

June 29, 2013

Parking in NiceWhat more does it take to make M2M aka Internet of Things – everything or some things – happen big way? Let’s revisit the key components again. Data is the gold of M2M and the winners will be those who best utilize the data captured. Integration of data in existing business systems and processes is key to maximizing the value. Distribution of information through relevant channels and to terminals of users choice, using open api’s and gorgeous human-machine interaction is required for the applications to be used. Generic Device Control platforms on top of service providers networks together with Specialist Service Enablers are required to make it affordable to develop and maintain applications for clients of all types. The winners in Service Enablement will be the ones who understand the data they are dealing with and due to the huge amounts of industries and functions to be served Service Enablement will be a very fragmented part of our industry.

I see most of this happening now and our industry is definitely developing fast. We are in the teenage stage already with clients moving from thinking and talking to doing. From Powerpoint to pilots. There is absolutely no better way to understand what happens if one connects things than actually connecting some things to play around with. And there is no better way to go for that than to contact a Specialist Service Enabler who has most things ready. Connecting things and collecting the data in the cloud was good enough 1-2 years ago when technology was the key challenge. But today the challenges are mainly business centric why understanding the context of the data is key to succeed. This is why Specialist Service Enablers is the right choice when it is time for a pilot or proof of concept project.

But there is one major thing missing: Internet is global, ICT is a global business and Internet of Things will have to be global as well to prosper. Vendors and operators are working quite hard to make this happen which is great but it will take long time and they can’t make it themselves. Most organizations in the world are small to medium-sized and the software they use are mostly local or localized. Law, policies, culture, language, taxonomy, habits, taxation, religion, alphabet and friendship are examples of things that make people use local software. And it will continue to be like this for many many years. Since the data captured in M2M solutions should end up in business applications, maybe blended with data from public or commercial sources, we need what I call a glocal value chain. The global component is needed to drive economies of scale and enable international business etc. The local part is there to cope with the local requirements, to ensure proper integration in business systems and to engage integrators, consultants and developers locally bringing their clients with them.

Glocal value chains are always difficult to make work. But in our case, whatever we call our industry, I find it quite straight forward. The global part consists of operators (like Telenor Connexion) and their alliances (like GMA), Telecommunication vendors (like Ericsson and Telit) and international ICT vendors (like Cisco, SAP and Oracle who all have started to move now). Ever since Ericsson’s 50 Billion Devices statement this inside-out effort has been coming along quite well. The local part, i.e. developers, integrators, resellers and consultants, has in most parts not got going yet and therefore the small to medium businesses in general are in waiting mode or not even aware. Specialist Service Enablers constitute the missing link. Due to missing operator device connectivity services they have had to learn to deal with the connectivity layer directly. And the services they provide to customers in the industry they target is to a large degree useful across boarders. To me it’s clear: operator networks with device connectivity services together with Specialist Service Enablers interfacing to local developers and integrators is the way forward. The challenges are primarily commercial and practical, not technical. I am working with members of Swedish M2M Service Enablers in several projects along those lines and it looks very promising.


M2M in its teens – the industry is shifting gear

April 5, 2013
The M2M industry is rapidly leaving the first connectivity focused baby phase – thank god! – and enters the productivity phase. This is where we look at operational issues, capabilities and value. Vendors and operators are preparing themselves to be able to serve the market better and more efficiently. And new partnerships, alliances, initiatives and M&A activities pop up on a daily basis. This is all very good and makes life easier for developers, integrators and customers. But it is more about preparing for the business to take off than making it taking off. It mainly improves the capabilities to deliver in an efficient way.

Today’s initiatives are signs of a developing industry. Building blocks are put together into candidate platforms and architectures. As always most of them will fail over time but still it is an important part of growing up. Let’s look at a couple of recent M2M “teenager activities”:

  • Telefónica and Telit cooperate in M2M Air, providing managed M2M services globally
  • Etisalat group just joined KPN, NTT DOCOMO, Rogers Communications, SingTel, Telefonica, Telstra and VimpelCom in the M2M Multi-Operator Alliance
  • Ericsson and SAP announced a partnership at MWC and talk about the M2M Eco-system
  • Satellite operator Orbcomm acquired MobileNet who provides custom mobile data solutions for the heavy equipment and railroad industries
  • Wipro and Axeda announced a strategic alliance to provide services and end-to-end solutions to help organizations connect with any asset, leverage machine data to enhance business processes and develop new innovative enterprise applications.
  • TeliaSonera, France Telecom-Orange and Deutsche Telekom collaborate to increase the quality of service and interoperability for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications
  • Claro Brazil joins a growing list of Jasper Wireless operator partners including AT&T, América Móvil, NTT DOCOMO, Telefónica, VimpelCom, KPN, SingTel, Etisalat, Telstra, Rogers, CSL and more
  • Several operators including TeliaSonera, Swisscom, XL and have signed up with Ericsson to use DCP for improved M2M service delivery
  • AT&T has several M2M initiatives including AT&T Control Center together with partners like Jasper Wireless, Axeda, Sierra Wireless and SensorLogic.
  • Airbiquity and China Unicom are teaming up to provide telematics services for the Chinese automotive market
  • Vodafone Vehicle Connect and Towers Watson’s ‘DriveAbility’ programme will accelerate the pace at which insurers can get new services to market, and at a competitive cost
Looking at mobile operator subscriptions for M2M, the market continues to grow roughly 25-30% per annum. The number of cellular M2M subscriptions nearly doubled between 2010 and 2012 to reach 143.7 million according to Pyramid Research. They also claim China is growing over 40% per annum and will become the largest cellular M2M market this year. We should remember that a lot of M2M applications share cellular subscriptions or use other technologies to connect.

So operator’s M2M business is growing quite rapidly but from small numbers. In a fairly well-developed M2M market like Sweden, M2M subscriptions are roughly 20% of all mobile subscriptions today. But still most of the market potential is untouched. Policy-driven markets like smart meters, big global markets like connected cars and consumer oriented stand-alone solutions are all fairly well addressed. But small business is big business also when it comes to M2M, and these companies are only addressed by independent Service Enablers, developers, integrators and turn-key solution providers. The alliances, partnerships and M&A activities aren’t reaching that far. A company connecting 100 of their “things” per year in maybe 25 countries across the globe is simply of no interest to any of the large players. The same goes for ,a company who want to develop a specific application to connect 25 of their “things” in a country, unless they are filthy rich.

Success in SME will come from successful platform support for specialist service enablers, developers, integrators and turn-key solution providers. That has little to do with technical issues and a lot to do with trust and business models. This has to be resolved before M2M will grow up.


Mobile World Congress 2013

March 3, 2013


MWC2013Mobile World Congress 2013 is over and some 72.000 visitors and 1.700 exhibiting companies have gone home. The new location – Fira Gran Via – was more “professional” and space, logistics, food, etc was better. But on the other hand, it is far away from down town Barcelona which made people spend much more time in the traffic. And at a couple of occasions the traffic turned really bad.

I have obviously not seen everything and met everyone so my conclusions have no trace of science:

The over-all impression was quite boring rather then exciting. Devices, boxes, antennas and software architectures all over the place and the devices really look the same. Is this a sign of commoditization? The very serious fact that Europe is seriously behind in LTE usage (4% of subscribers world-wide acc. to GSA) should make a lot of Europeans nervous. Our entrepreneurs in the European mobile industry might start move to the US like IT entrepreneurs have done for many years.

The value of MWC continues to be the interaction between people from the same industry across the world why parties and sub-events continue to be important. The 5:th Swedish Mobile Association-party on Monday was spectacular again and my job as bouncer was as easy as all previous years.

There is a growing number of visitors and exhibitors from other industries mainly due to M2M. I guess there were 20 more or less connected cars to look at but I also found exhibitors like Assa Abloy with their connected locks in a small both. I believe this increased focus on what to use the mobile network for is a good development – maybe the event should be divided in two: building and operating networks – using networks.

M2M was everywhere but the heavily promoted GSMA Connected City part of the event I unfortunately found quite dull. In the far end of Hall 3, few visitors, a lot of screens with presentations and no real energy or “heat” (if we exclude the Gangnam Style dancers from KT). And I couldn’t find anything about OTA provisioning of SIMs which was demonstrated by GSMA last year. Connected cars was clearly the most discussed topic in M2M followed by mHealth. I believe it is a sound development that focus on M2M itself disappears (no customer has ever asked me for M2M) and that we start discuss real problems with real customers. The industry needs to be able to create value for the huge SMB market and not only the multi-nationals, consumers and governments. That is the key challenge for M2M today.

Ericsson’s Key Note event Tuesday night was a highlight: well structured and executed with M2M and Networked Society as a leading theme. And finally Vestberg invited Avicii on stage and then they launched a new song right there, XYOU based on a crowd-sourcing process. The thing I really liked was that they showed the Twitter feed from when Avicii entered the stage and when they played the new song we could see it spreading over the Internet on another huge screen. Well thought through and executed! I’m not sure everyone in the audience understood what was going on but my 17 years old daughter was really impressed already by the SMS I sent her.

My choice of coolest product at the show was also in the Ericsson hall. Under the banner “Windows of Opportunities” they demonstrated four connected windows solving real problems. My favorite was the one for skyscrapers which generates electricity from light coming in. I hope they have solid patents in place!

Personally my highlight of the week was outside of MWC. I was invited by Prof. Aninyda Ghosh, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the great IESE Business School, to give a speech on Parallel Entrepreneurship. I enjoyed every minute!


M2M Service Enablement 2.0

December 27, 2012

freeimage-2951943The key to rapid progress and growth in the M2M market is Service Enablement. It is the middle-ware, the magic, between generic connectivity and the specific applications the customers are asking for. The Service Enablement has to be robust, secure and efficient in order to make the solutions affordable to develop and maintain. It is also important for the communication provider’s M2M business to scale nicely. Beyond technical matters Service Enablement also has to cover practical issues like deployment and support.

There are three ways to deploy service enablement: in-house, by mobile operator or by independent service enablers. The in-house option is most often used when the data from the connected devices are business-critical which is typically the case when companies provide their product as services. The independent Service Enablers typically place their services on top of the connectivity and provide the entire customized solution for the customer and the devices connected. And mobile operators are increasingly adding a quite generic piece of Service Enablement on top of their connectivity services, dealing with things like alarms, device management, self-service portals and more granular invoicing. This is often referred to as Device Connectivity services which is a natural way for mobile operators to make their M2M offering richer and more competitive.

The Service Enablement part of the market has developed rapidly over the last year with several operators announcing agreements with primarily Jasper Wireless and Ericsson. But we also have a lot of independent Service Enablers active in the M2M market. These independents are most often small national players with scarce resources and difficulties to reach out. We started Swedish M2M Service Enablers (swedishm2m.se) last spring to join forces educating the market and promoting the members. Today we are eight members in the alliance with more in line. But still the operator offerings are too generic for most customers and the indies don’t have muscles enough why customer uptake remain quite slow.

I believe we have to be more granular when talking about Service Enablement in order to get to a solution which is good enough to develop and maintain specific customer applications on. In Beecham’s most recent SES study they identified 22 different service groups and 112 individual service elements within those so M2M Service Enablement is clearly a complex issue. It is already clear that independent Service Enablers must be at least industry focused. It is simply too easy today to just connect terminals and gather the data in the cloud. A competitive service need to understand the data and what to do with it. In other words, Service Enablers have to become Specialist Service Enablers to survive and that is rapidly happening now. With generic Device Connectivity solutions providing standardized APIs for the Specialist Service Enablers to use, the indies can focus all their resources on their speciality. And the operators with such solution in place would be far more attractive to customers and their software developers and integrators to work with. Provided I am right and the market will develop in this direction it might be a dead-end for operators to develop Device Connectivity in-house.


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