Home5GThe IoT interview (pt1): “We have to focus on what scales and repeats,” says AT&T

The IoT interview (pt1): “We have to focus on what scales and repeats,” says AT&T

The greatest challenge for Chris Penrose, president of IoT solutions at AT&T, is just to order and manage the multiplying opportunities afforded by the advancement of machine connectivity and intelligence.

For Penrose, the key is that business is repeatable, and his resources within the business solutions division of the carrier are put to best use.

“There is so much out there; we have to focus on what we can scale and repeat – which either have an impact for the businesses we’re working with, or on the greater good,” he says.

Of course, the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) market is older, and more mature in ways, than it is often considered. For its part, AT&T is an old hand, with a well worn system to pick off the richest catches, and drive business and innovation.

Penrose – leading AT&T’s IoT division; most ‘verticals’ are seeing double-digit growth

“We have a bunch of different ways to rate and rank and prioritise opportunities we are engaged with,” says Penrose. He is in charge of AT&T’s entire IoT portfolio, designed to capture the amorphous IoT scene, both vertically and horizontally.

It is geared for international sales, even outside of the Americas, where AT&T does not own a network. “I’m a self-contained innovation arm inside AT&T,” he remarks.

In total, AT&T is going after about a dozen ‘verticals’, or industrial sectors – “everything from smart cities and asset tracking to healthcare, retail and agriculture”. The company has dedicated staff to each one, Penrose points out.

The biggest of them all is connected cars, a market that has developed over the course of two decades from simple machine-to-machine (M2M) functions to something more transformative, which re-designs mobility systems and re-writes car culture.

AT&T connected two million more vehicles in the third quarter of 2018, a run-rate that is fairly typical. Its total stands at 27 million vehicles, scattered across the planet – made live by a mix of embedded systems and aftermarket modules, sold via its own retail stores or wholesaled by partners.

AT&T has just reached one million in-car Wi-Fi hotspots, it said. Around thirty partnerships have been signed with car makers, including all the usual marques. The ink is drying on an expanded deal with Daimler, to supply connectivity to heavy-duty trucks outside of North America. “It’s very strong growth for us. It will only continue to ramp amp s we as we move further into all the things that we can do with these vehicles once they are connected,” says Penrose.

He talks as well about improving the customer experience by connecting in-car information and entertainment (‘infotainment’) systems; car makers and fleet managers can track vehicles, and vehicular performance, in the field.

But these are, arguably, like glorified, go-fast M2M functions; it is a game AT&T has been playing, like most tier-one carriers, for a decade already. As Penrose alludes, the role of new cellular connectivity, alongside advances in data analytics and cloud computing, will make vehicles, roads, and traffic systems smarter.

“The next chapter will be transformative – and connectivity will play an essential role… 5G will open the door to new business models and new experiences,” says Penrose.

AT&T is working with Ford, Qualcomm and Nokia to test-drive C-V2X technology with 4G LTE and, eventually, 5G, and develop ‘intelligent transportation system’ (ITS) technology for sharing data between transportation endpoints, such as cars, bikes and pedestrians.

The algorithms that govern autonomous vehicles can be continually improved as automated vehicles encounter new driving situations. This ability for automated vehicles to learn from other vehicles depends on 5G connectivity, says Penrose. “This is where our 5G network comes into play.”

The market for connected and autonomous vehicles is about to explode, reckons analysts.Gartner says connected car shipments will reach 80 million units in 2021, increasing at 36 per cent per year on average, from 17 million in 2016. ABI Research forecasts eight million vehicles will roll off assembly lines with automated driving capabilities in 2025.

It’s enough to make you duck. Instead, AT&T has squared its shoulders, to grapple with the rising opportunities in the car market, just as it wrestles with the rest of the IoT space. It is bossing each contest, reckons Penrose.

“Connected cars is the biggest vertical. But we have nine verticals where we have over a million connections in each one… We’re seeing incredible, double-digit growth year-over-year in our connections and revenues. It is only accelerating,” he remarks.

To be continued… sign up to the Enterprise IoT Insights newsletter to be sure to catch the next instalment.

The IoT interview (pt1): “We have to focus on what scales and repeats,” says AT&T
The IoT interview (pt2): “We’re a one-stop IoT shop – for every enterprise,” says AT&T
The IoT interview (pt3): “We do what we can, and partner on the rest” says AT&T


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