The IoT interview: “Business has changed for both sides,” says Ericsson
The fragmented IoT market is hard to understand for enterprises and hard to navigate for operators. Swedish vendor Ericsson says its new IoT ‘accelerator’ can help both sides. Enterprise IoT Insights chats with Jeff Travers, head of IoT at Ericsson, about the challenge to stimulate the IoT ecosystem.
Every industry is searching for answers, reckons Jeff Travers, head of IoT at Ericsson. Enterprises know there’s a rising tide of data, flooding their shores, but they do not know how to catch sail, or how to chart a course for new horizons. Ericsson’s new IoT ‘accelerator marketplace’ affords them a boathouse to re-tool for the crossing, and guidance on the troubled waters ahead.
More used to consulting with network operators, Ericsson finds itself for the first time deeply engaged with a cross-section of industry. “These are business we don’t normally deal with, and they’re national and multi-national in their reach,” explains Travers.
The impact of digital is hard to resist. The total transformation of well-accepted consumer practices – from over-the-top messaging to ride-hailing to holiday lets – by digital up-starts has registered with every entrenched industrial operative. “They’ve seen the disruption in other markets. They want to know how 5G and IoT is going to help them. They want to know what it means.”
How are these other sectors equipped for digital change? “It’s diverse,” says Travers. “Generally, they want to know how to engage with customers, and really how to connect their products – so, how to connected up this box, or elevator, or water pump.”
It is harder to know what to do once the connection is made and the data is retrieved he observes. “The question is what they want to get out at the end. They might have 100 products, and know them inside out, and they might have a million customers, and know them rather well, but they don’t know how their product is being used.”
Ericsson is setting up to help them, by equipping the carrier-run boathouses along the shore-line, which service the ambitions of enterprises to catch a sail. Its ‘accelerator marketplace’, aimed at service providers and developers, addresses the need for collaboration in the fragmented IoT ecosystem.
The risks of IoT data-sharing
For service providers, the new IoT accelerator marketplace provides a catalogue of recommended IoT apps to offer enterprise customers for their digital crossing. For application developers and application partners, it is a window to an IoT ecosystem to connect with these service providers through a single platform, exposing global cellular connectivity APIs.
“It will unlock the potential for different players in the value chain to deliver value. It is another stepping-stone to make 5G a reality by enabling massive adoption of massive IoT. Its supports service providers as they seek to expose network connectivity IoT APIs and monetise these assets,” says Travers.
There remains an essential task to educate enterprises, he notes. Despite growing recognition among them that new insights might be utilised in product maintenance and development, they tend to draw a blank when it comes to handling the data itself, especially when collaborative data sharing is considered to be crucial, and regulation is tightening around privacy.
“They understand, often, that if they can get that data, and the insight from it, then they can feed that into their product development, add new features, and perhaps even share information with partners, suppliers, and authorities. They see huge value in this data lake. But there is this whole set of other issues – around privacy rights, say, and data sharing.”
Travers has been chatting with a mining company, he explains, which is frustrated because the company supplying its trucks, as connected vehicles, is failing to share a rich stream of data it is gleaning about their usage. Should it be obliged to share that data? “That’s the question,” he responds.
“Both sides need to understand the business has changed – if you don’t go into this with open eyes, then you get this skewed situation where the truck maker has deep insight and the mining company doesn’t.”
He adds: “Industry is now generating this enormous amount of data, which it doesn’t really have the experience to deal with. That’s the first challenge. And then there is this issue of how it’s shared about, and how payments are settled. Operators’ billing systems are typically programmed for one-way billing; in the smartphone world, there is a very direct billing relationship. In an industrial context, there might be four or five companies in the value chain – there isn’t that same linear flow.”
Monetising licensed cellular IoT
The accelerator marketplace offers monetisation capabilities to facilitate multi-party IoT transactions and settlements, as well as a select choice of IoT apps and devices. The idea is network operators can quickly convene an ecosystem of partners to quickly launch sector-oriented IoT services.
“The market for IoT devices is amazingly fragmented because they are for any purpose. It is hard to make sense of. If we didn’t have the marketplace, operators would be forced to scan the market for each device separately, which might take them months,” says Travers. Its marketplace houses 28 accredited apps and services as it stands, but quality control is high, and numbers are a secondary concern.
“The purpose is not to have 1,000s – we don’t care for the quantity. It doesn’t matter if it is 25 or 200 in the end,” he says, at the same time revealing the strategic objective of the exercise. “The purpose is to seed 3GPP cellular connectivity technology and show its relevance to industry – because many parts of the industry have evolved without 3GPP techniques. We want to show what’s possible.”
The reality is much of the IoT ecosystem, as it commonly relates to industrial and civic operations, is being propped up by non-cellular low-power, wide-area (LPWA) connectivity technologies like LoRa and Sigfox, rather than newer licensed equivalents, notably narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and category ‘M’ LTE (LTE-M).
Indeed, unlicensed networks make up two-thirds of LPWA networks, according to a recent study by IoT research firm ON World. The LoRA Alliance claims there has been more than 100 percent growth in the number of public LoRa networks in the past 12 months, from 31 live networks to 67. By contrast, the GSMA said ahead of MWC in February that 23 carriers had so far launched 41 licensed cellular IoT networks.
Travers suggests unlicensed technologies might be considered either parochial solutions or short-term fixes, until NB-IoT and LTE-M reach scale. “The thing about LTE is it gives you a full range of power, from narrowband capacity over here to gigabit over here, and flexibility, where moving between them is a trivial task,” he says.
“These other low-power products are suited for specific use cases. But they can’t expand – and even if you’re building an IoT application to locate your bicycle, you find pretty quickly you want it to also include map information and images, and you soon need expanded capacity.”
Travers returns to the old tune about licensed cellular, that it begets massive scale in the end. “There are many things being connected today, often on a quite random basis. There’s great value in reaching scale. Just look at smartphones – you have an enormously powerful computer, there, for the price of not very much, and that’s because there are a billion produced, all to the same standard,” he explains.
“If you were working to very diverse country-specific or industry-specific standards, the economics just wouldn’t stack up. We want to hit that scale with IoT. NB-IoT networks are being built now – they’re going live now. There aren’t that many applications yet, but we want to build those to get that scale. We are not really that concerned about these other strange, small use cases. There is a place for them, but that’s not where our focus is.”
He sums up: “We’re just trying to boost the system. The more the system is boosted, the better.”