Industry summit addresses challenges and growth in the IoT

In the past decade, the mobile industry has observed a gradual shift in focus towards IoT. The term itself has become so ingrained that it almost appears to be fading from the industry’s lexicon. Yet as embedded as the term may be, understanding how to reap the commercial advantages of IoT networks – and particularly 5G – remains a persistent challenge.

Speaking at MWC’s 5G-IoT Summit on 28 February, Dr. Philipp Schulte, CEO of Giesecke+Devrient, summarised this neatly: “When we talk about IoT, sometimes we get very different reactions. There are some people that say, ‘well, the IoT is everywhere around us – all the devices that I see are already connected and they all seem to work just fine.’ But other people say ‘it doesn’t feel like that. Where are all the benefits that were promised? Where are the good business cases that really show there’s efficiency gains? Or further improvements that make my life easier, more convenient, and more efficient.’ We believe there’s a couple of puzzle pieces that need to come together to have a coherent picture and to make the whole thing work.”

Economies of scale and interoperability with eSIM

Throughout this year’s event, there was a prevailing sense of the need to adapt in order to truly grasp the customer’s perspective. Schulte emphasised the imperative to enhance network coverage and interoperability, both of which are pivotal factors to the widespread scalability of IoT worldwide. According to Cameron Coursey, Vice President at AT&T Connected Solutions, a significant part of the solution to achieving this lies in “the ability to personalise the SIM card, especially an embedded SIM or integrated SIM, locally so that it would work right out of the box for the customer – this is key.” For Juan José González Menaya, Head of Connectivity at Telefónica Tech, this logic should apply not just to customers but geographies and their varying regulatory requirements as well: “we need to have the tools to localise when needed. Some countries and localities may have specific laws, so we need the ability to adapt and evolve.”

As eSIM technology advances, it becomes progressively more valuable in simplifying the typical complexities and overcoming barriers encountered by customers. As CEO of Kigen Vincent Korstanje noted, collaborating with industry and vertical markets is crucial in identifying pain points and devising effective solutions. For example, speaking about some of the challenges in remote SIM provisioning, he pointed out that devices can lose a lot of battery life (in extreme cases, up to 80%) simply by provisioning ‘in the field’. Kigen’s response has been to work with manufacturers to create ‘just-in-time provisioning’, which effectively allows for provisioning very late in a manufacturing stage, thereby “allowing you to make sure that your device is configured for the German market, for the US market, for all the different markets, at the right time of shipment.”

NTN networks and ambient IoT are key to realisation of connected living

The need for greater coverage is in part a reflection of ever-rising market demand. As Parth Trivedi, CEO and Co-Founder of Skylo Technologies, said: “people are now demanding connectivity, not only where they live, but also where they travel, where they work – and you saw in the previous panels for more sectors that need it, such as agriculture and mining.” There is a growing consensus that this demand can be fulfilled by non-terrestrial networks (NTN), which can work in concert with existing cellular networks to provide coverage for IoT applications that operate in remote locations. “The key for non-terrestrial networks is the use of cellular native protocols and a cellular native tech stack for enabling satellite as opposed to using bespoke proprietary satellite protocols, and that enables the

use of cellular where there are satellite communications.” This was underscored by Steve Szabo, Vice President of Business Products, Verizon Business Group: “If we can get to a point where things are standard, then these solutions can be seamless and our offerings become very elegant for the customer. And to them, all they care about is the outcome and the experience.” Improving services and implementing change also mean doing so with minimal disruption to the customer experience. As Jens Olejak, Head of Satellite IoT Program at Deutsche Telekom IoT said: “so if we assume that satellite and cell networks are converging and it’s possible to serve everything as one product to a customer, my position is that mobile network operators are best positioned to do this because we have long experience in ‘networked networks,’ which was already said is roaming on cell networks. We already have a few hundred roaming partners. We know how to charge it and to operate it, and now can extend this to satellite players as roaming partners.”

This convergence is not limited to satellite either. Another emerging technology is ambient IoT, which is projected to connect tens of billions of smaller, low-cost devices. Speaking about his company’s work in ambient IoT networks, Steve Statler, Chief Marketing Officer of Wiliot said that “the kind of architecture that we have today – this will change when this gets blended into eco-cells and base stations – but what we have is a multi-tier architecture, where tags talk to bridges, bridges talk to gateways, so bridges are Bluetooth in, Bluetooth out, gateways go from Bluetooth to the IoT network.” Combined with their cloud service, this makes it possible to “take the tsunami of data and turn it into actionable insights… there will be open access through 3GPP, so, for example, if a manufacturer or a retailer wants to talk to the clothing or consumable products, or box of cereal in your home, they wouldn’t have to go through an Apple, Amazon or a Google or whoever manufactures the smart speaker.”

Is the IoT still poised for growth?

With the IoT becoming such a major focus of industry endeavours in recent years, accompanied by the inevitable hype, there’s a tendency to set inflated expectations. As Matt Hatton of Transforma Insights put it: “the last decade saw something like a tenfold growth in IoT connections – think about that. When people are telling you that the shine has come off IoT, well, you can point to pretty much every powerful production line with a connectivity index – smart meter deployments getting up to into the very high percentages and increasingly critical use cases.”

In the past twelve months, the industry has responded to diverse customer feedback, which previously hindered growth. Overcoming these practical challenges mark a crucial phase in the evolution of IoT and lay the groundwork for sustained commercial expansion. By consistently addressing core issues, staying actively involved in the broader ecosystem, and embracing emerging technologies, the future of IoT – and the pivotal role of mobile network operators within this ecosystem – remains as promising as ever.

Catch up on all the action of the 5G IoT Summit on-demand: 5G IoT Summit – Making IoT work for Customers