Having already connected the vast majority of the world’s citizens with a wireless cellular connection, the telecom industry is naturally one of the largest potential players in the IoT market. As a matter of fact, a surface level definition of IoT (connecting devices to each other and the internet) already has players such as AT&T, Verizon and Vodafone dominating IoT since the advent of Dial-Up Internet, which was first offered commercially by Sprint in July 1992. Since then, while many device to device connections have flowed through them, that infrastructural play has not been enough to satiate telecom companies. In 2015, Tata Consultancy Services found that, out of 13 sectors, telecom ranked fourth when it came to spending on IoT technology. In 2015, companies surveyed spent an average of $110.7 million on IoT per company and expected their budget to substantially increase to $169.5 million by 2018 (a 69.5 percent increase over 3 years). So where’s this money being spent?
According to the Tata study, 33.4 percent of this money is being spent on monitoring of Telecom products and services after selling to customers, 30% percent on customers monitoring (i.e. usage of products such as smart watches or mobile apps), 18.4 percent on on-premises monitoring or tracking customer experiences in specific businesses (such as Amazon Go) and 18.1 percent on supply chain monitoring.
In general, the Telecom industry has three different areas of investment in IoT:
- Planning, monitoring and maintenance for Telecom
- IoT infrastructure and services for Telecom customers
- IoT solutions development
Planning, Monitoring and Maintenance for Telecom
With billions of dollars in expensive cellular base stations and data centers deployed worldwide, Telecom companies can benefit from IoT enabled remote monitoring and maintenance. Remote cell towers include many pieces of auxiliary equipment that allow the telecommunications systems to work and are essential to ensuring no network downtime. This equipment such as backup generators, air conditioners and energy meters can be fitted with sensors that allow Telecom operations teams to remotely monitor the health of individual towers, make adjustments that increase operational efficiencies and, when worst comes to worst, selectively dispatch crews from a centralized location. Since this infrastructure is highly expensive and subject to the theft of core components (such as fuel and batteries), an IoT enabled access management and intrusion detection system would provide a lot of value. Many remote sites exist in harsh environments, so fire, water and air quality sensors play a vital role in avoiding long term exposure to elements which may irreparably damage core infrastructure.
When network infrastructure is being planned, IoT can be introduced to ensure efficient network design and optimization. The Network Design and Optimization group at Ericcson is using artificial intelligence to simulate networks and predict optimal connectivity. This technology is already live and being used by large companies such as Softbank. The system helps optimally configure network parameters and can also identify “the frequency strategies, measure future capacity bottlenecks, and all for different traffic models, supported by a deep understanding of the geography to be covered…and minimize CAPEX and OPEX for IoT launch”.
IoT Infrastructure and Services for Telecom Customers
As the key connectivity service providers for our society and more specifically, the business world, Telecom companies stand to gain by developing their own digital and physical infrastructure as well as services for IoT. These may include the development of an IoT platform to manage devices and their connectivity to the Telecom company’s infrastructure, the development of new connectivity options in their current coverage areas (such as deploying Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) from their pre-existing assets) and proximity sensing.
IoT Solutions Development
Given their pre-existing access to large businesses whose first move when wanting to implement IoT in their core processes would naturally be to reach out to the internet/communications company they’ve worked with historically, Telecom companies have a unique opportunity to partner with current clients and develop specific solutions for them. These solutions could include anything from factory optimization and cold chain management to energy utility monitoring and vehicle tracking for dealerships. While this business is more bespoke and may not be a core competency of the Telecom providers, it offers a path to increasing the size of their current contracts with clients and can be tested out by partnering with any of the numerous existing IoT solutions development shops and systems integrators in the market who may be interested in joint development or white-labeling solutions.
In general, with Telecom companies powering our cellphones and therefore making up a large portion of our current interactions with the internet, they are in a great position to expand their business by branching out into IoT. And, while IoT provides a significant opportunity for these companies to further interact with and grow their current customer base by naturally extending to infrastructure and solutions, IoT can also help Telecom companies decrease their capital and operational expenditure on core infrastructure by monitoring owned assets like cell towers and base stations.