What difference does an operator M2M alliance make?

December 23, 2013

GMAMobile operators are working hard to formalize alliances for the M2M market. Global M2M Association recently added Bell Mobility and Softbank to the team of collaborating operators. The other GMA members are TeliaSonera, Deutche Telekom, Orange and Telecom Italia. The M2M Multi-Operator Alliance just re-branded themselves to M2M World Alliance and includes SingTel, Telefonica, Etisalat, NTT Docomo, Rogers, KPN, Telstra and Vimpelcom. The aim is to provide something like a similar customer experience across the covered countries, making the alliance brothers and sisters look attractive to customers and partners.

This sounds easy, obvious and becomes a way to compete with the really big players like AT&T and Vodafone. But reality bites. Even if they all use a very standardized network it is very challenging to bridge national, cultural, strategic, technical, operational, practical and political differences between the large organizations and countries involved. And on top, most M2M business is and will remain local. The devices are in many cases fixed why roaming is less of an issue. One can argue that by collaborating with colleagues operators will learn from best practice and further down the road they might make collective decisions on systems to use etc. That would be good but not really so much benefit for the M2M customers as for the operators themselves.

Another way of looking at it would be that as long as these efforts circles around connectivity and related services like billing, support, certification and device monitoring chances are realistic that they could be fruitful. However, the value delivered would be difficult to charge for since customers expect this to work already. And having operators to collaborate on industry specific solutions with increased revenue potential seems less realistic. And as long as all territory isn’t covered the common facade will need odd additions to give some customers what they are looking for. Yet another challenge to the alliance concept is all M2M solutions using other connectivity than the cellular networks. And even worse, it’s obvious that most solutions will use a mix of connectivity and the mix will change over time. Mobile operators have almost 200M M2M subscriptions in use by now and the growth rate remains 25-30% per year. But there are a lot of devices connected using other fixed and wireless technologies. A quite common estimate is that some 10% of the connected things will have a SIM card.

Don’t get me wrong: I really like the airline alliances and appreciate the efforts undertaken by the operators to collaborate. But I don’t think these efforts will change the destiny of M2M in any substantial way.

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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.


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