Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products at Comms365, explains what communications service providers and resellers must do to ensure they have the skills and digital capabilities to take advantage of IoT
The apparent stagnation of the IoT marketplace in the UK is incredibly frustrating. With no national Low Power cellular network to support IoT deployments at scale due to be in place before the end of 2019/20, many companies have placed IoT investment plans on the back-burner, believing there is no point in embarking upon half-hearted strategies that cannot be realised without a Tier 1 carrier infrastructure.
For CSPs and resellers experiencing increased competition and pressure on existing revenue streams, this IoT hiatus is potentially disastrous. From the drop in traditional voice revenue as a result of the uptake in Unified Communications and Voice over IP (VoIP) to the commoditisation of connectivity and broadband services, the downswing in traditional communications revenue is unprecedented. Even the promise of additional revenues from the shift towards the cloud and delivering hardware, software and infrastructure as a service has failed to plug the gap, with limited opportunities to add value and minimal margin on offer.
Frustrating as it is, this hiatus could prove to be a blessing in disguise, especially for CSPs and resellers that view the IoT opportunity in a very limited way, i.e. as an opportunity to make money just from connectivity. Even the cellular variants of the IoT networks currently available are becoming heavily traded and commoditised – competition is tough and margin is lower than traditional 4G voice and data services. If CSPs are to replace lost revenues and add new income streams, IoT connectivity alone is never going to be the solution, irrespective of network delays.
What, then, are the IoT opportunities beyond connectivity that offer CSPs and resellers the chance to unlock extra value and earn more revenue?
A complete, end-to-end IoT project encompasses many aspects of technology and service delivery, from new devices to Low Power network infrastructure, from security to applications, from data analytics to brokerage. All of these areas offer access to potentially signifcant new revenue streams, and to exploit them CSPs and resellers will first need to invest in new skillsets and new business partnerships. The next 12 months will give organisations the chance to truly become IoT-ready.
In addition to getting up to speed on the various wireless network communication protocols, including both short range and low power, long range technologies, it is essential for CSPs to understand how new IoT hardware and software platforms can be used to analyse and make sense of the large quantities of data being collected.
They will also need to know how to secure this data. Resellers that gain the skills to protect data being harvested across an IoT deployment will have the opportunity to create a very profitable business stream in its own right. It’s a challenge, but companies need to take the time to build relationships, gain knowledge and find their place within the IoT ecosystem.
To help them, a number of IoT incubators offer funding for start-ups and new business ideas. There are also opportunities for organisations of every size to start engaging with IoT technology through test beds that support the development, testing and commercialisation of ideas and through initiatives like Digital Catapult’s innovation programmes, which connect researchers and small businesses with larger organisations to address real world industry challenges. In addition, a growing number of Regional Innovation Centres provide access to expertise in the underpinning IoT ecosystem technologies.
While the creation of national Low Power IoT networks, such as LoRaWAN deployments in France, the Netherlands, the United States, South Korea and South America, has undoubtedly kick-started IoT deployments globally and inspired organisations to explore and deliver a raft of new business opportunities, the current lack of a national UK LoW Power IoT network need not be a fundamental inhibitor. Not all IoT deployments require such a national network and there are multiple localised options and/or vertical market solutions that CSPs could, and should, be exploring to gain essential insight and experience.
Existing networks, such as Wi-Fi and BLE, as well as Low Power networks operating in unlicensed spectrum, can be blended to support localised IoT projects involving hardware, software and application/analytics service revenue. A number of proof-of-concept IoT deployments are currently being undertaken within ‘closed’, campus-type environments, from facilities management to distribution and airports. The expansion of the Smart Cities project to a number of new locations, with attendant investment, gives CSPs and resellers additional opportunities to become involved.
Even though a national network is undoubtedly required to support IoT at large, there is far more IoT investment and deployment being undertaken than many organisations realise.
With other countries moving forward with IoT deployments at scale, supported by national networks, there is no doubt that frustration is growing at the lack of progress in rolling out a low power infrastructure across the UK. CSPs and resellers should make the most of the gap in infrastructure deployment by gaining skills and confidence in the diverse aspects of a complete IoT as a Service deployment, by delivering proofs of concept and by discussing IoT opportunities with customers.
Have the conversation: Where are organisations in their IoT thinking? Where is the business case? Is there an opportunity to embark on a small scale, local deployment?
Delaying engagement with end-to-end IoT should not be an option, as it will be a key competitive resource and revenue base for years to come. Organisations have 12 months to get ready, build up skills and relationships and get concepts tested so that they become a trusted customer advisor for IoT. Those organisations that take action today will be best placed to gain a strong position within the IoT market and drive very significant new revenue streams.