SK Telecom may have been pipped on the rollout of the world's first nationwide IoT network, but it hasn't checked its broad IoT ambitions.
The South Korean telco last month unveiled its LoRaWAN network, covering 99% of the population, just four days after Dutch telco KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN) unveiled its own nationwide rollout. LoRaWAN, backed by the global LoRa Alliance, is optimized for low bandwidth and long-life devices.
SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) is spending 100 billion Korean won ($89 million) on the network, platform and apps development between now and the end of 2017, setting a target of more than 4 million connected devices.
It has announced prices starting at KRW0.35 per month, encompassing data consumption of 100KB to 100MB. The LoRa prices are around a tenth of those on its national LTE-M network, completed in March. (See SK Telecom Sees LTE-M, LoRa as Its 'Two Main IoT Pillars'.)
New business lines like IoT certainly matter in South Korea's heated mobile market. In its last quarter, SKT recorded flat revenue and EBITDA.
SKT has also developed a oneM2M-based platform, ThingPlug, and is working on utility metering, location tracking and monitoring services. None have hit the market yet, but it says it will target the auto, retail and construction sectors.
It has begun rolling out smart home services, though. It has signed up Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) and other partners and expects to have launched 50 smart home-capable products -- such as air-conditioners and robotic vacuum cleaners -- by the end of this year.
Godfrey Chua, principal analyst at Machina Research, notes the difference between SKT's approach and that of some big Western telcos, such as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), which have been pushing into IoT through M&A activity (See Verizon Buys Big Into IoT With $2.4B Fleetmatics Deal.)
He says it's hard to overstate the benefits of a nationwide network, offering scale as well as coverage.
"They now have a network and connectivity that delivers a different level of economics than before," he says.
For example, a developer or enterprise looking for machine connectivity might get pitched prices of around $3 a month. "But I need something that costs not $3 but $3 per six months to enable the number of potential connections that broaden the use cases," he explains. "As an enterprise, the way I'm going to meaningfully expand my business is through the volume, which is what the IoT business promises: scale."
But as well as networks and platforms, telcos are going to have to bring in new business and marketing skills.
"Don't underestimate the sales process," cautions Chua. Telcos have strong account teams but their strength is selling minutes and data, not solutions.
"How to start the IoT conversation with the client? It wouldn't be with the networks guy. It would involve many other disciplines across the company. It's a much more complicated process," he says.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading