Most service providers are still working to identify concrete, consistent and revenue-generating roles for themselves in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem -- positions that extend their strategies beyond the function of providing connectivity. Sprint, for its part, is focusing its current efforts on the small and midsized business world, and trying to address all aspects of IoT for its business targets.
That comprehensive approach -- including connectivity via Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s network, but also helping businesses with the device hardware and application enablement aspects of IoT services -- could help distinguish the carrier's strategy in the still evolving IoT sector. (See Cisco: Carrier IoT Role Still Taking Shape, Driving Miss 4G: Execs Talk LTE Cars at CTIA and AT&T Adds 500K Connected Cars in Q3.)
Like other carriers, Sprint is paying close attention to IoT opportunities in the connected car space, but is also focused on transportation in general -- "everything on wheels," says Mohamed Nasser, director of emerging solutions for Sprint, including fleet management, emergency vehicles and trains. The carrier is also targeting areas such as the auto insurance sector and retail, and also develops custom solutions for business customers.
"This is not selling a handset -- this is selling a total solution," Nasser says. "When we go to market -- whether it's healthcare, energy or transportation -- we have built out this three-legged stool of a hardware, application and connectivity strategy."
The strategy can be applied to any business sector, Nasser says, from connected cars to connected bars to connected cows. "A cow is an asset," he says, referring to the importance of IoT-based asset tracking for ranchers as an example. "It's a precious bundle."
Beer is also an asset, and the unified nature of Sprint's IoT focus for SMBs means that the same basic approach could work as well for tracking livestock as it does for, say, selling beer. To that end, the carrier has teamed with Anheuser-Busch and Mesh Systems to turn tap handles into connected devices in an effort to help customers in bars and restaurants associate certain beer brands with certain teams (and, they hope, buy more beer). [Editor's note: Have I just gone to telecom heaven? Beer? This is good...]
Specifically, the collaboration has produced Bud Light and Budweiser beer tap handles featuring neon lights that flash and display messages when a certain team scores. Mesh provides sensors and a gateway that connects the taps to Sprint's network and channels a real-time feed of sports stats to the tap handle. The hope is that the flashing taps will help beer drinkers associate Anheuser-Busch brands with their teams' successes.
"It's basically a trigger event -- a goal or a run or whatever the bar owner has set up, and for which teams," says Meena Batra, a national account manager for Sprint, who worked with Anheuser-Busch on the project. "The bar owner has complete control and can localize and customize it."
The connected taps were installed in 50 bars in Denver last year, and Anheuser-Busch reported an increase in both "consumer interaction" and beer sales, though declined to give specific numbers, Batra says. Future applications could involve monitoring beer flow or scrolling displays that connect with customers' social media feeds, she says, noting there are "a lot of capabilities we haven't tapped into -- pardon the pun."
It's that kind of customization, Nasser says, that will expand Sprint's IoT presence in business sectors -- and the carrier is counting on salespeople in the field, like Batra, to understand their customers' needs and apply Sprint's capabilities to address them.
"It's on the sales force to uncover the points of pain these customers might have," Batra says. "It's a shift in the way we're selling. It's getting out of IT and figuring things out from a business perspective."
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading