A new era for the IoT

11 min read M2M & IoT
The impact of IoT is being felt far and wide, with seemingly unlimited growth potential. Comms Business spotlights how resellers and MSPs can develop compelling offerings.

With billions of connected devices and an accelerating array of use cases, demand for IoT shows no sign of slowing down. From healthcare and local authorities to retail and electric vehicles, channel opportunities are almost endless. New developments such as VoLTE (which stands for voice over long-term evolution) alongside Narrowband-IoT, LoRaWAN and 5G will further fuel growth potential.

For Kathy Quashie, head of indirect business, Vodafone UK, there has never been a better time for partners to use connectivity and technology to transform costs, as well as giving customers competitive choices. She explained, “Partners can help their customers think creatively about how to use technology innovations to attack problems in ways we didn’t think were possible just a few years ago – like the use of IoT to get more insight into how a building is being occupied, or in factories to monitor manufacturing production flow. It’s also important to nurture long-term relationships with partners across a range of industries.”

Quashie added that now is the time for MSPs to guide their customers through their options. She said, “We’re also at a great moment in time to define how we want shape the future of the channel using innovative technologies like IoT. As we move towards a more digitalised society, partners will need to help end users make the most of new technologies to improve customer service and drive efficiencies in their business. No less important is value for money and how cost transformation will support digital automation activities. Right across the Vodafone Indirect Business portfolio, we’re seeing the potential for IoT to address huge challenges in a number of industries, and we believe future demand will be driven by the desire for the cost-effectiveness and flexibility that IoT solutions can provide.”

Stringent challenges

IoT technology is continuing to advance, so it can meet ever more stringent challenges and requirements. Nick Sacke, head of IoT solutions at Comms365, pointed out how progress made to the underlying technologies that power the IoT is simplifying deployment. He said, “We’re not only seeing an uptake in interest and the use of these solutions, but the actual technology itself is becoming increasingly adaptable, cost-effective, simple to deploy and maintain. Hyper-efficient, agile, deployment and maintenance models are the prime focus.

“From Covid-safe technologies within healthcare, to revitalised parking solutions and waste management, the demand for advanced IoT technology is continuously increasing with endless opportunity.”

Diversity is also key for Adrian Sunderland, CTO, Jola. He emphasised, “IoT devices are used in all types of industry verticals. Major industry verticals with currently more than 100 million connected IoT devices are electricity, gas, A/C, water supply, waste management, retail, transportation, storage, security and government.”

Alarm bells

With the end of 2G and 3G in sight, demand for solutions such as NB-IoT and LoRaWAN is increasing. Dan Cunliffe, managing director, Pangea, explained, “MNOs are planning to sunset their 2G services around 2025, and 3G even earlier in 2022. [This] should ring alarm bells for the many companies with IoT solutions based on those services, like smart meters and asset tracking systems.

“Many of these rely on sending bite-sized data morsels over long ranges, often with deployments lasting years. So LPWAN technologies like NB-IoT and LoRa are the perfect fit, and as a result companies are flocking to them to future-proof their 2G solutions. And for IoT solutions that run on 3G, like vending machines or smart lighting, LTE-M is a strong alternative.”

For Cunliffe, 4G remains the “best choice” for data-hungry IoT such as CCTV, mobile broadband, and electronic payments. “Especially for roaming deployments; unexpected overages from roaming are like a slap in the face, but flexible tariffs keep partners safe from bill shock. In general, intelligent mobile data remains the foundation of all great IoT solutions. If you’ve got a solid mobile data offering, you’ve got an easy route into the IoT market.”

Global reach

Dale Smith, head of channels for the UK and Ireland at Juniper Networks said the number of connected devices is predicted to hit 46 billion by the end of the year. He added, “Both organisations and individuals are making the most of the transformational benefits of IoT. It enriches data, adds context into processes and provides unprecedented levels of visibility across organisations.

“One IoT technology that is in particular demand is indoor location services, as [these] enable maximum user engagement and asset visibility. This is critical for enterprises to revolutionise the user experience. Increasingly, organisations expect a real-time cloud location service that combines personalisation, data analytics and operational simplicity to deliver turn-by-turn navigation and comprehensive visibility — all while reducing operational costs through intelligent automation. To achieve this, they need access to cloud architecture that converges Wi-Fi and virtual Bluetooth LE to enable high accuracy indoor location services with scalability, resiliency and flexibility.”

Every single technology out in the market depends on agreements, according to Paul Craig, head of IoT, OV. He said, “Without agreements, things simply wouldn’t work. Right now, we’re seeing a huge focus on creating solid IoT agreements that offer a global reach and reasonable commercials. The IoT market exploded fast. Weak agreements were created with clauses that meant the contract could be pulled at any moment, and right now the industry is tidying that up.

“Technology wise, we’re seeing demand growing in several areas. There’s a big shift towards low power technologies like LTE-M, which offers specific connectivity for M2M and IoT deployments – it’s like the 4G or LTE equivalent for the IoT world.

“Finally, many in this sector spend their time future gazing, but there are lots of issues we need to deal with right now. Despite shifts towards newer networks like 4G and 5G – there is still great demand and a huge legacy need for technologies depending on 2G or 3G connectivity. Talk of sunsetting these services is unsettling many in our sector, which is why we’ve focused on creating a multi-network offer that gives our partners and their customers the connectivity they need for as long as it is available in the market.”

Bob Vickers, head of UK and Ireland at Ordr, feels there has been a sharp increase in the number of IoT devices deployed in recent years – which he estimated will be over 25 billion by the end of the year. He said, “We work closely with a number of NHS Hospital Trusts and just thinking about UK healthcare settings, IoT devices include temperature sensors, CCTV cameras, medical equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. IoT devices include anything that can connect to a network that is not a PC, workstation, tablet or smartphone. IoT is therefore being used more and more in every vertical.”

Electric vehicles

Sectors using IoT are far and wide and continue to diversify. Sacke at Comms365 listed healthcare and county councils as important markets, as well as electric vehicles. He explained, “As part of the Road to Zero strategy, the pressure is on for the UK Government to meet its widely publicised electric vehicle targets. As a result of expediting the ban of selling petrol, diesel or hybrid cars from 2040 to 2030, research has found that electric vehicle charge points must be fitted five times faster than the current rate, in order to meet the target. By deploying IoT EV bay monitoring and implementing technology solutions with data flow at the core of the infrastructure, everyone will gain from an improved user experience, as we prepare for the inevitable changes and increased demand on the road ahead.”

IoT is no longer specialist, said Sunderland at Jola. “Almost every industry has a need to analyse data and reduce costs. We are focused on partners in retail, transport and logistics, physical security, the public sector, construction, renewable energy and broadcasting.”

He added, “In the channel we are seeing an exponential rise in demand for mobile data SIMs and not only for use in 5G or 4G routers, pre-Ethernet connectivity and Ethernet back-up. Mobile data SIMs are being fitted in many gaming machines, vending machines, monitoring devices, sensors and ATMs as standard. SIMs are being used in IoT solutions in wind and solar farms, measuring and tracking key variables. They are also used in smart TV cameras, which roam internationally. Everyday manufacturers and service companies are finding new uses for mobile data and as we accelerate towards 5G this is unlikely to slow down.” Transport, utilities, health, security and retail are further key sectors.

Cunliffe at Pangea went further. He said, “Truth is, you won’t find a sector that isn’t using IoT. In healthcare, IoT and mobile connectivity-powered telemedicine is saving lives, with research from McKinsey showing usage is 38 times higher than it was pre-pandemic. According to the GSMA, smart energy systems and meters could save businesses a total of £1.3 trillion pounds, and cut global carbon emissions by 23 per cent.

“Retail is leaning heavily on IoT for its high-stakes, fast-paced solutions like cashless transactions, pop-up shops and stock monitoring. And construction, which used to be the most under-digitised sector of all, is relying on IoT for predictive tool maintenance, transferring architectural files, and connecting the thousands of new worksites that crop up every day.”

Cunliffe explained that there is no “single important sector” that resellers and MSPs should keep an eye on. He added, “The smart approach is to choose the sector or sectors you already specialise in and watch them like a hawk for opportunities to provide mobile data. Of which, there are plenty.”

Real-time wayfinding

For Smith at Juniper Networks two sectors that greatly benefit from the use of IoT and indoor locations services are retail and healthcare. “In the retail sector, adopting user engagement can provide retailers with unprecedented insight into customer behaviour. Real-time wayfinding, for example, helps customers get to where they want to be, with turn-by-turn directions and sub-second latency. Moreover, real-time location-based proximity notifications and alerts can provide customers with a personalised experience through contextually relevant messages, such as targeted promotions or greetings, on their mobile devices. Retailers can use these services to boost the customer experience and, ultimately, customer loyalty.

“In the healthcare industry, asset visibility can make it easy to find both key assets and people using detailed analytics based on their location, therefore simplifying and enhancing operations in critical environments.”

OV’s Craig explained the way people work and operate has changed significantly since the health crisis. He said, “Over the next few years, our focus is going to be on promoting VOLTE across all sectors. Voice IoT is vitally important, as 4G and 5G networks don’t allow you to transmit voice services. Resellers are investing in new hardware, and it needs to fit the test of time. Not a lot of people are talking about it and are instead rolling out data services, but for us, it’s a priority for sectors to be future-proofing their networks, which means using VOLTE.”

Vendor support

How can vendors support resellers and MSPs in developing compelling offerings? Sunderland said Jola works with resellers and MSPs to uncover the opportunities in their existing customer base and develop a compelling solution. “We recognise that a reseller may not feel confident going into a valuable customer and proposing an IoT solution that the reseller hasn’t ever delivered in the past. However, because Jola has over 1,000 resellers and has experience of delivering thousands of different solutions in virtually every industry sector then we can use that experience to build confidence in the reseller and credibility with their customer. We will sit side-by-side with the reseller to both uncover the opportunities and to help them win.”

Cunliffe said that the best IoT vendors find ways to make life easier and more profitable for their reseller partners. “That means handling the heavy lifting with IoT projects, from pinpointing IoT opportunities, to planning deployments, to follow up support.

“Portals are another big support factor. IoT deployments, especially when roaming, often rely on a number of different networks, all with different technical and commercial agreements. A good portal acts as a single window into all these services, giving partners a simple, easy way to see and control their IoT solutions in real time. No headache logging into a different platform for every SIM, no telephone tennis trying to sort out customer issues, and no panic over unseen data usage.”

According to Juniper Networks’ Smith, compelling offerings are those that unify a set of technologies that link together and complement each other. “These offer more value both for resellers and MSPs, and their customers, as they provide that end-to-end interoperability, visibility and control that is desirable in a network.

“Resellers and MSPs should ensure they are providing a service that guarantees connectivity across the entire network, at every point of connection, from client to cloud.”

Craig thinks the best way to support and champion resellers and MSPs is to work as collaboratively as possible. “To do this, we share intel that resellers cannot typically access. Take location as an example. Mobile networks give vendors unique information, and although location information might seem like a minor thing, there is so much valuable data to be harnessed. Such as: what country are they in? Which part of that country? What network has the device connected to? And what sort of device is it in? The answers to these questions provide us with vital data that can shape resellers solutions for the better. We make sure that this is accessible to resellers, so they can develop the connectivity as part of their proposition and improve their market offering.

“The connectivity market is competitive, and we want the resellers working with us to have an advantage. So, as well as working collaboratively and sharing information, we also believe vendors should present opportunities for resellers to create solutions that are unique to them. For example, we offer a wholesale agreement. Instead of selling a sim card or management platform to a customer, we give them access to our data, so they can build their own mobile service and then we wholesale it back to them. This gives the reseller the opportunity to work independently from us, to develop a compelling offering.”

Whilst Vickers at Ordr, noted, “The best way that vendors can support resellers and MSPs is by developing technology that has clear, tangible benefits and leads to easily identifiable outcomes.”

Perfect fit

But how can resellers evaluate their current portfolio and spot obvious gaps? For Cunliffe the trick is to “change up your thinking”. He explained, “Focusing solely on how many sites you need to connect will lead to tunnel vision, and you and your lucrative IoT opportunity will pass each other like ships in the night. Instead, think about how many endpoints your customer has, what they’re trying to achieve with those devices, and how you can make it easier for them to do so with IoT and mobile data.

“Always remember: the idea that you have to search high and low for IoT opportunities is a myth. Start by offering mobile data in the industry you’re most experienced in, find your customers’ pain points and match them with the perfect fit IoT solution, then sweeten the deal for them with a long list of value-added services. And if you’re stuck, ask your vendor for help. Two sales teams are stronger than one.”

Cunliffe also highlighted how one reseller partner recently won £2m for an IoT and mobile data project in the construction industry. “First, they examined their base and found customers needed to get new worksites online and keep expensive tools safe from damage. Then, they matched their customers’ business with the right IoT connectivity; in this case, multi-network 4G for mobile broadband and a predictive maintenance IoT solution for the tools.

“Finally, they threw in public static IPs so that the connected tools could freely move from site to site. And voila: the customers were happy, and our partner can sit back and enjoy the new IoT revenue stream.”

But in a world where interconnectivity between office environment, homeworker environment, the WAN and cloud is expected – it is vital that resellers evaluate their current portfolio to ensure it is meeting these requirements. Smith, from Juniper Networks, explained, “[Resellers] should identify any gaps in each of these scenarios where they may not be bringing value to their customers – for example, are they supporting them in securing the network while making sure it is as high-performing as possible? Are they doing this in a bandwidth-efficient and real-time way?

“Resellers need to think about all of the geographical locations of their users, as well as the features, functions, performance and security of the network, to ensure they are striving to deliver consistent value and excellent experience for all stakeholders. I would encourage resellers to explore these growing as-a-service delivery models, which can provide end-users with the peace of mind that their network and security are in trusted hands, while their own IT teams focus on the next innovations that are core to their business and competitive edge.”

Number one priority

Comparisons between IoT offers and standard mobile offers are often made. Craig, from OV, said this happens too often. “But it should be made clear, that these are two unique entities, that will never compete. So, I would say the number one priority for a reseller is to ensure that your current supplier is selling you the right, future-proofed, IoT connectivity that also has the potential to scale.

“Secondly, I would advise resellers to assess whether their supplier is accommodating their needs. Are they working flexibly and looking to help you? Or, are they offering a service that fails to meet your evolving demands? If it is the latter, you might need to make a change.

“Finally, it’s not a widespread problem yet, but I do think we might start to see friction arise with suppliers that have their own IoT business. Finding yourself in a bid against your own supplier might pose a challenge and could adversely affect your wholesale agreement in the long run. It’s not a concern right now, but I do think it could be something for resellers to consider in the future when choosing suppliers.”

For Vickers at Order, device security has been largely overlooked in recent years. “Organisations have focused more on cybersecurity solutions based around network access, email and perimeter security. As the threat posed to connected devices has become better understood, device security has been pushed front and centre. Resellers should take this into consideration when evaluating their portfolios. It’s likely the gaps will become obvious.”