The role of wireless operators in the Internet of Things (IoT) is at an interesting stage in its evolution.
On one hand, IoT markets -- such as the manufacturing and automotive industries -- are maturing and operators are considering how best to deploy third-party enabling platforms of the kind that they are traditionally pretty good at providing.
On the other hand, the operators' core IoT value proposition -- connectivity -- is under threat from new networks and communications protocols that seem well matched to the needs of IoT applications. In fact, one could see the public cellular networks' championing of the new NB-IoT standard, as well as the design criteria for future 5G networks, as being in part a response to the threat posed by the likes of Sigfox to the one part of the IoT value chain that wireless carriers thought was definitely theirs.
One issue facing operators is that many IoT applications are likely to be global in scope, and most operators' networks are not. In addition, operator networks have been designed to meet specific requirements in specific markets (and that doesn't necessarily mean that they will readily support IoT applications). Many of the most mature IoT markets (for instance, machine-to-machine industrial IoT) have established processes, protocols and providers -- it's not obvious what the route into those markets might be for operators.
These challenges are being addressed in multiple ways. Operators are doing one or more of the following:
- Actively developing (or acquiring) vertical-specific IoT businesses and offering services to end users (generally enterprises in sectors such as automotive and logistics).
- Partnering with one another to extend their global IoT connectivity service reach or with partners from different sectors to develop an IoT ecosystem.
- Reselling global IoT enablement services (provided by third parties) that encompass connectivity and additional capabilities.
- Deploying more capable service enablement platforms from third-party vendors in order to create and deliver broad IoT enablement services to enterprises and developers.
IoT platform vendors think the prospects for operators are good, though vendors that already sell connectivity management platforms to operators (some exclusively use this model) must ensure that their operator customers stick with them as service enablement capabilities are added to the basic connectivity management piece.
Operators will certainly further their IoT cause if they focus on putting in place platforms and tools that deal with the pressing issues around IoT generally, including scalability, generic and application-specific data analytics and reporting, and security. There are platforms available to them that will help -- they don't need to build their own solutions.
The latest Heavy Reading report report, "IoT Platforms: Chasing Value in a Maturing Market," examines the market for horizontal, multi-sector platforms to enable IoT applications. It considers the opportunities for telecom operators in this market; where value resides in the process of developing, supporting and delivering an IoT application; and how much of this value can be captured through the use of a horizontal platform. The report also assesses the offerings of ten leading vendors of IoT platforms.
— Danny Dicks, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading