25 May 2017
| Gareth Willmer
Carriers have an opportunity to play a big part in enabling IoT. But they will need some clever approaches, writes Gareth Willmer
The age of the internet of things (IoT) is leading carriers
to have a big rethink about how they approach the market. Vast
quantities of data will be coming over networks from millions
and billions of devices of all types and a wide variety of
business sectors, ranging from farming to the automotive
industry, so carriers need to consider carefully how they
manage and organise their networks to accommodate this
One way of doing this is by introducing more dedicated IoT
technologies and networks in a bid to create clear, specific
offerings to handle that kind of data and steal a march on
others in the market.
Vodafone explains, for example, how it has developed its own
management platform to handle connectivity in a dedicated IoT
"This has comfortably been able to accommodate the doubling
of data volumes we have seen over the last 12 months, as well
as more than a million new IoT SIMs that we distribute each
month," says Phil Skipper, head of IoT business development at
The company has complemented this by investing in new
technology such as narrowband IoT – launching its
first commercial service in Spain in January 2017. The aim of
this is to help achieve better coverage, roll out to
hard-to-reach locations, optimise power consumption and cut
costs. Such factors could be important in IoT verticals that
may call for large volumes to generate good revenues, like
smart metering. "The business case for success in IoT for the
smart meter sector is predicated on scale," says Skipper.
"Technology enhancements such as the introduction of narrowband
IoT deliver a lower cost base for items such as smart
Verizon’s US-wide network
A new term to learn is Cat M1 – meaning "category
M1", a version of 4G LTE mobile technology optimised for IoT
services. Verizon has just launched what it describes as the
first nationwide commercial 4G LTE Cat M1 network in the US.
The company says the network, which uses a virtualised cloud
set-up, is a "game-changer" that allows rapid roll-out of IoT
services using a new LTE chipset designed for sensors, using
less power and providing extended battery life.
David Vasquez, director of IoT global business development
at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, says that from a wholesale
perspective, the company’s ability to both
facilitate connectivity and have Cat M1 modules already
pre-integrated into its IoT platform, called ThingSpace, is
making it easier "for customers to partner with us and let us
do what we do best, which is ultimately connect their devices
AT&T, for its part, is "rethinking how we build and
manage our network" to keep up with the growth in demand for
general data and applications such as IoT, 4K video and virtual
reality, says Mobeen Khan, the company’s assistant
vice president for IoT solutions.
He cites moves including AT&T’s push to
virtualise 75% of its network by 2020 and its use of approaches
such as low-power wide-area networks and satellite
technologies, with 5G also set to be "a critical part of
staying ahead of demand".
He says that even if some IoT devices might be less
successful than others and certain specialised ones that have
been rolled out in relatively small numbers, many have been
The company is, for instance, seeing the connected-car
segment grow rapidly, and overall it has approved almost 3,000
types of IoT devices from a wide array of vendors to connect to
It’s not just about generating revenues from
simple connectivity of end devices, says Khan, but the whole
offering that AT&T can provide to its customers. "We are
helping customers with solutions to their full range of IoT
needs, rather than focusing only on connectivity for their
end-point devices," he says.
"For example, utility customers buying connectivity for
smart meters also have a range of other requirements for their
smart grids as critical infrastructure," he says. "AT&T is
working on custom private LTE networking using dedicated
As well as that, the company has the ability to enable the
collection and analytics of data relayed by the devices both
securely and on a global basis. "Harnessing data to predict,
learn and make real-time decisions can create distinct
competitive advantages for businesses," says Khan.
Another idea that is gaining traction to help with this kind
of need to move the IoT market forward in this data-driven
world is edge computing – a concept being promoted by
players such as Vapor IO, which offers specialised software for
edge environments to telcos, cloud operators and
CEO Cole Crawford does not specify which telcos Vapor IO is
working with, but the mainly US-focused company has more than
10 partners worldwide. The company also announced last year
that one of its first deployments for its Vapor Edge
technologies would be with Czech Republic-based data-centre
The key question, says Crawford, is: "How do you get
meaningful compute or machine learning as close to the user as
possible without the complexities and cost of tracing that
backhaul through its traditional path, which is expensive and
very high latency?"
He explains: "We have witnessed a paradigm shift in how
carriers and hyperscale cloud providers will need to interact
with each other."
In that world, he says, "we thought we could help them
maximise their return on investment, lower their capital
expenditure and help them with the situational awareness or
telemetry of all of the metadata that they’re
Fresh partner models
Combined with new network develop-ments, some carriers are
promoting fresh models for selling to other carriers and
partners, helping them achieve the scale they need for many IoT
services that often require a global reach – and
bringing more of an organised structure to the space.
In a recent example, Verizon unveiled its Exponent venture,
aimed at enabling other carriers around the world to deliver
IoT services using the multi-billion dollar investments that
Verizon has made in big data, artificial intelligence and IoT
Vasquez points out that it can be tough for carriers to
handle the wide variety of demands in the IoT world and invest
all the necessary time and money in building a business, so all
the effort Verizon has expended to bring these concepts to life
can come to their aid too – and could help spur the
wholesale market for other carriers by making it easier for
them to sell their own IoT services.
Belgium-based wholesale carrier BICS, meanwhile, recently
launched its SIM for Things product, which helps customers from
industry verticals to connect, manage and deploy IoT devices
and services globally, and M2M in-the-Cloud, a white-label
offering that provides mobile operators and MVNOs with all the
tools needed to launch and run M2M and IoT services on a global
basis, based on a virtualised core network in the cloud.
Experience and relationships
BICS is well placed to serve the market with its networks,
having already acted for many years as a provider of hubbing
services in the roaming arena, explains Mikaël Schachne,
vice president of mobility solutions.
The aim is to use the experience and relationships it has
already developed in the market to offer quick access to
partners in different countries.
BICS has also just struck a partnership with IoT and M2M
mobile services company Hanhaa that will provide global
connectivity for the UK-based company’s new
Parcelive parcel tracking service.
New revenue streams
Separately, Telefónica is using its Telco4Telco
approach to help wholesale customers generate new revenue
streams in areas such as IoT, security, the cloud and big data,
and announced a deal in October 2016 to provide IoT services to
Greek operator Wind Hellas – not just aiding with
connectivity, but also end-to-end management.
But the complexity of the IoT sector means that carriers
face many challenges in creating a successful business in this
area, in addition to generating scale and managing vast amounts
of traffic and networks of devices – not least the
ever-present issue of security.
There are also challenges relating to selling in many
potentially unfamiliar segments. "IoT is often very industry-
and application-specific, often requiring specialised knowledge
to sell effectively. We have invested to train our broad direct
business and consumer sales channels on how to manage IoT
opportunities," says AT&T’s Khan.
Vicente Muñoz, global head of IoT at
Telefónica, adds that sales cycles in IoT are often
long, and convincing companies to move past their legacy
systems is not easy, thus requiring a consultative approach to
On the wholesale side, IoT services can be uncharted waters
and they raise the need to train and educate your sales team
and customers to sell them, unlike services fully embedded in
the traditional telco proposition such as voice and IP, says a
separate spokesperson at Telefónica Business
"This is a clear challenge for any sales organisation," says
this executive. "You need to create an end-to-end value
proposition for telcos that covers from the platform to the
go-to-market tactics." Telefónica, he says, has a large
amount of experience from its many countries to enable it to do
BT has, meanwhile, set up an IoT "centre of expertise"
within its wholesale and ventures division, which delivers IoT
services to customers and wholesale partners, as well as the
company internally, says Guillaume Sampic, strategy director at
BT Wholesale & Ventures.
The company is trying to "transform internal processes"
through IoT, in addition to aiding partners, says Sampic.
Examples include the use of IoT devices to track the
company’s fleet and optimise scheduling of its
vans, and using sensors in its cable drums so it can easily
locate them, helping to better manage stock and reduce repair
time. Ultimately, from all the activities BT carries out in
IoT, "we expect direct benefits to our wholesale customers in
terms of better and sleeker operations", says Sampic.
Vapor IO’s Crawford says one of the main
questions for operators in the current environment is whether
they can innovate fast enough – but he thinks carriers
are getting there step by step, and that the industry has an
exciting time ahead.
"If they are not careful I do think the telcos will have a
massive role to play in this new world," he says.
Internet of Things