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5G, WiFi, GPRS, NB-IoT, LTE-M & LTE Categories 1 & 0, SigFox, Bluetooth, LoRa, Weightless-N & Weightless-P, ZigBee, EC-GSM, Ingenu, Z-Wave, Nwave, various satellite standards, optical/laser connections and more….. The list of current or proposed wireless network technologies for the “Internet of Things” seems to be growing longer by the day. Some are long-range, some short. Some high power/bandwidth, some low. Some are standardized, some proprietary. And while most devices will have some form of wireless connection, there are certain categories that will use fibre or other fixed-network interfaces.
There is no “one-size fits all”, although most Kenyans hope that 5G will ultimately become an “umbrella” for many of them, just like the current 5x speeds offered today by Safaricom under 4G(#DoingItTheSafaricom4G) . But our Kenyan telcos, especially mobile operators, need to consider which they will support in the shorter-term horizon, and for which M2M/IoT use-cases. That universe is itself expanding too, with new IoT products and systems being conceived daily, spanning everything from hobbyists’ drones to industrial robots(as of the case in Mitsubishi IIoT recent innovations done at Centurion Systems, westlands).. All require some sort of connectivity, but the range of costs, data capabilities and robustness varies hugely.
Two over-riding question themes emerge:
What are the business cases for deploying IoT-centric networks – and are they dependent on offering higher-level management or vertical solutions as well? Is offering connectivity to Kenyans– even at very low prices/margins – essential for telcos to ensure relevance and differentiate against IoT market participants?
What are the longer-term strategic issues around telcos supporting and deploying proprietary or non-3GPP networking technologies? Is the diversity a sensible way to address short-term IoT opportunities, or does it risk further undermining the future primacy of telco-centric standards and business models? Either way our telcos need to decide how much energy they wish to expend, before they embrace the inevitability of alternative competing networks in this space.
Personally I’ve outlined three strategic areas of M2M business model innovation for our Kenyan telcos:
Improve existing M2M operations: Dedicated M2M business units structured around priority verticals with dedicated resources. Such units allow telcos to tailor their business approach and avoid being constrained by traditional strategies that are better suited to mobile handset offerings. A good working case scenario is what Safaricom is currently doing with their VAS services.
Move into new areas of M2M: Expansion along the value chain through both acquisitions and partnerships, and the formation of M2M operator ‘alliances.’ Here in kenya,I should give Microsoft and Salesforce from America a thumbs up for the nifty partnership they are doing to realize this very important point.
Explore the Internet of Things: Very few of our telcos have been active in the connected home e.g. THE BIG BOX from Safaricom. However, outsiders are raising the connected home (and IoT) opportunity stakes: Companies from Thailand, Canada and china are flooding our market with android TV boxes and such more connected homes.
Figure 2: The M2M Value Chain
Source: Samwel kariuki
2015 discussion of IoT connectivity has been dominated by futuristic visions of 5G, or faster-than-expected deployment of LPWANs (low-power wide-area networks), especially based on new platforms such as SigFox or LoRa Alliance.
As I write this article, already in Kenya there is a comparatively slow emergence of dedicated individual connections for consumer IoT devices such as watches / wearables. With the exception of connected cars, most mainstream products connect via local “capillary” networks (e.g. Bluetooth and WiFi) to smartphones or home gateways acting as hubs, or a variety of corporate network platforms. The arrival of embedded SIMs (Safaricom being on the fore front in deploying the first bunch countrywide) might eventually lead to more individually-connected devices, but this has not materialised in volume yet.
Growing impatience among some in the telecom industry with the pace of standardization for some IoT-centric developments. A number of operators have looked outside the traditional cellular industry suppliers and technologies, eager to capitalize on short-term growth especially in LPWAN and in-building local connectivity. In response, vendors including Huawei, Ericsson and Qualcomm have stepped up their pace in our country, although fully-standardized solutions are still some way off.
This highlights the IoT quantification dilemma – most if not all Kenyan telcos are focusing on the big numbers, many of which are simple spreadsheet extrapolations, made without much consideration of the individual use-cases. And the larger the headline number, the less-likely the individual end-points will be directly addressed by telcos.
Compiled by: Samwel kariuki
18th Nov 2016
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