Discussions around the “hot” topic of the Internet of Things (IoT) at TMForum Live! in Singapore this week have displayed a refreshing lack of hubris given the telco industry’s collective predisposition for announcing every innovation as a game-changer. That may be because in the race to zero where the aspect of connectivity is concerned, there’s less of a vested interest in exaggeration but regardless, it’s clear that IoT remains embryonic and its prevalence is some time away yet.
Today, presentations and panel discussions at the show broadly agreed, IoT amounts to a set of basic building blocks with little in the way of an ecosystem to pull them together. It’s far from user-centric and thus, while IoT should in the forefront of the drive towards digitization the reality is that it’s not. As one analyst pointed out, instead it’s mired in IT departments and thus it’s largely characterized by technical conversations detached from commercial realities.
For this to change, various issues need to be addressed including (in no particular order) vendor collaboration, devices, connectivity, security and analytics. The breadth of these issues reflects the fact that IoT reality demands a multi-component approach and IoT will remain less attractive until a full package can be offered rather than a series of applications. Within this package, data will be communications “glue.”
Understanding this is critical because, as one presenter described the status quo, right now IoT is overloaded by information but lacking intelligence. Changing this (which is in part changing data integration and management approaches) will be one of the drivers that result in IoT taking off. Expect to see a start made here in 2017 with data being pulled from an ever-growing number of platforms and being far more productively transformed than before.
Another key driver for IoT will be resolving the connectivity question and this will likely drive a boom in low-power Wide Area Networks though which flavor of the latter is as yet unclear. Sending large amounts of data over long distances in a cost effective way will significantly unlock the potential of IoT as clogging up mobile networks isn’t a viable approach. But competing interests mean a battle with regard to how this achieved will be played out in 2017. Narrowband IoT, Lora and SigFox all have their advocates though which emerges with what market share presently remains unclear.
For mobile operators, there are an abundance of questions to answer not least can they sell the solutions IoT enables rather than the commodities they’re used to selling. If it’s clear that the IoT needs dedicated networks then it’s equally clear that a new breed of service provider will be forced to evolve in order to capitalize on opportunity and drive success.
The slow pace of IoT take-up today reflects this reality. The vendor market is fragmented (note the lack of ecosystems above), there are a limited number of attractive Use Cases presently on offer, there’s a skills shortage and, from a telco perspective, the likelihood of diminishing (to zero) returns for connectivity. Change will likely come only when the IoT is tackled from a user perspective after which the industry can work back to creating the required technical solutions. In-the-dark build out won’t work and won’t happen.
As for Use Cases, for real take-off these have to move beyond the limited examples (payments is the obvious one) presently on offer. Ecosystems also need not only to be developed but also to multiply in number. It’s likely that each vertical industry will require a different ecosystem; it won’t be a case of one-size-fits-all. This, also, is slowing the IoT’s progress.
Operators, meanwhile, will be incentivized when they can find ways to make money from something other than connectivity. There’s also a need for a catalyst in the market to generate both investment and interest; this is likely to be governments though to date the smart cities they've promoted have, it is widely agreed, been badly over-hyped. Yes, they’ve delivered operational benefits for the provider but to date only limited rewards for end customers.
For those of us in the enterprise and applications communities, now is the time to step back, understand how customers could benefit from the IoT and then create the infrastructure needed to deliver that on that vision. Ploughing ahead without circumspection and increasing the hype without the substance will result in an ever-less convincing circle of achievement. Taking the time to build Use Cases, ecosystems and a real enabling platform is what will unlock the promise of IoT. From a DigitalRoute perspective and given the criticality of data in driving the Internet of Things forward, those are discussions we already deeply engaged in.