Mobile network operators are increasingly looking beyond their traditional commercial horizons, as IoT growth positions them to provide end-to-end services and platforms directly, rather than simply the connectivity to enable them.
Until relatively recently the vast bulk of operator revenues have come from selling access to networks. Operators earned $25 billion in this way last year, nine per cent of the total global market revenues in IoT solutions, according to the latest Mobile Economy Report by GSMA Intelligence. But as the IoT ecosystem grows and diversifies, connectivity alone will decline as a proportion of the market. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that by the middle of the next decade it will have shrunk from nine per cent to five. Operators not only can expand beyond connectivity – it is a commercial imperative for the industry to maintain and build upon its influence.
The GSMA is working with leading IoT mobile operators to identify and facilitate the common enablers of this multifaceted business future. Operators are already delivering value added services beyond connectivity: chief among these at present are those based on big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, edge computing and distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain. But their capabilities can be used to go much further. They already have local presence, existing relationships and sales forces, field service engineers and capabilities in managed services, solution design, and outsourcing. Operators are poised to act not only as partners in, but leading global providers of, the new breed of professional services in the digital world.
Big data management provides an illustrative example. As the IoT grows, so too does the need for analytics tools, and that challenge is best met by operators, as those overseeing the conduits of that data. The development of Mobile IoT – the family of cellular IoT technologies including NB-IoT and LTE-M – is a key driver. “NB-IoT is becoming a highly viable option for many businesses across industries, and there is an immense amount of opportunities for IoT technology, especially around big data analytics and in enabling real life use cases,” explains Paul McManus, Chief Enterprise Business Officer at Malaysian operator Maxis; “we also recently announced our collaboration with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation to promote the ecosystem development of IoT solutions.”
This new commercial era will be explored at the Future IoT Convention at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai on Wednesday. During session three, between 4pm and 5pm, we will discuss current use cases from leading operators and key verticals, who are building new strategies to push the boundaries of connectivity. Executive Director of the China Unicom IoT Company, Chen Xiaotian, will set out an IoT embedded platform with partners AdvanTech. Singtel’s Head of IoT, Diomedes Kastanis, will present alongside Accor Luxe Brands.
Further examples of how operators can add value beyond connectivity can be viewed at the GSMA Innovation City in Hall N5 throughout Mobile World Congress Shanghai. These include a smart greenhouse – which allows farmers to monitor environmental factors affecting crop yields via the China Mobile OneNET platform – and China Unicom’s blockchain-based system of tracking the reliability of batteries.
Operators are already very active in the IoT ecosystem, often in wide-ranging and pioneering roles. “We offer a wide range of high-quality, end-to-end IOT solutions,” explains Thomas Eugene Chia, Vice President, Enterprise ICT solutions, Enterprise Business Group at Singaporean operator StarHub, for instance. “A few existing examples are: smart metering for water and electricity, smart access control, smart smoke detector, smart waste management, smart robotics, rodent monitoring, people and asset tracking.” There is more operators can do in this space as it develops, however. While connectivity is the essence of the business offering of the mobile industry, our understanding of connectivity itself, is changing with the onset not only of IoT but 5G and Cloud technologies, which together enable unprecedented computing platforms via Intelligent Connectivity. There is excellent work taking place, but there is enormous value yet to unlock, and the GSMA stands ready to assist the mobile industry in doing so.
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