A new IoT age

M2M & IoT
The IoT market has matured considerably in recent years, Comms Business talks to the experts about how the technology is progressing and the opportunities that remain.

The internet of things barely needs an introduction nowadays, with connected devices now a familiar sight within our homes and workplaces. The IoT is no longer the stuff of sci-fi, with projects stretching back decades. For resellers and MSPs, keeping an eye on how the technologies are evolving is an essential activity in developing competitive offerings and identifying the key vendors to consider partnering with.

The IoT landscape is changing, with improved connectivity infrastructure unlocking new possibilities and new use cases emerging as organisations become more familiar with the technology. For Adrian Sunderland, CTO, Jola, IoT is being refined within industries that were early adopters, and are now developing IoT projects that build on existing ones.

He explained, “A few years ago IoT was driving transformational change in certain market sectors such as utilities and transport. The return on investment was so rapid that if you didn’t invest in IoT you were vulnerable to competitors who were already benefiting from efficiencies being gained from their investment in IoT.

“Today you would struggle to find a water supplier that isn’t monitoring their distribution networks in real-time or a transport company that isn’t tracking and monitoring their fleet in real-time. In fact, in these industries, they’re probably on their second or third generation of solutions.

“Today every market sector has a problem that can be solved by IoT. A few years ago, companies would seek out an IoT specialist or perhaps the IoT division of a mobile operator for help. Today, IoT is mainstream, and companies are turning to their trusted IT service provider or telecoms service provider for advice.”

Duncan Griffiths, head of sales for M2M and IoT, Cellhire, discussed the huge potential of the data generated through IoT devices. He said, “IoT is rapidly changing the world in terms of the way we work, live and play. While the connectivity that powers IoT is not new, we are already seeing the significant impact of how IoT gathers data and delivers outcomes that include business insights, improved customer experience as well as more defined efficiency and productivity.

“Quite simply, more things are being connected and this brings new connectivity and network requirements, more so than the traditional M2M SIM card.”

He emphasised the importance on focusing on the underlying connectivity. “The backbone of an IoT solution is connectivity and this is where we are seeing a changing landscape in terms of networks and technologies. IoT connectivity is no longer defined as a single network, single technology and single tariff. Customer and solution deployments are led by critical and secure connectivity, supply chain considerations, local, global and roaming networks and multiple technologies including LPWAN and eSIM.

“In addition, intelligent commercial structures are needed, and deployed solutions must be fully managed and scalable. One size doesn’t fit all, and such is the breadth of emerging solutions that the need for choice and flexibility around networks and technology is paramount.”

Nick Sacke, head of operations and presales, Comms365, pointed out the expanding potential for IoT projects as the underlying technologies mature. He said, “The IoT landscape is evolving rapidly; industries are only starting to realise the scale and diversity of use cases that can be accessed. The potential for customisations and optimisations – especially in terms of network delivery – are expanding too.

“One of the primary factors driving this growth is the growing amount of data companies now produce for analysis and optimisation of their estate operations. That pace is still accelerating as they digitise retail merchandising, fleet tracking, and manufacturing processes to name a few.

He added productised propositions are becoming more widespread. “As conventional deployments increase in uptake, the industry is maturing and evolving from bespoke solutions to more productised propositions that deliver more repeatable results. But testing is still required to ensure reliability, and providers need to better address the different network requirements to develop the most cost-efficient and practical solutions.”

One key challenge for the IoT market, Sacke explained, is the ongoing chip shortage and channel companies must understand the implications.

He said, “The global chip shortage has certainly affected the market. Delays in silicon production have caused knock-on effects in resourcing key hardware, and we anticipate the supply chain won’t be back to normal before 2024 at the earliest.

“Therefore, it’s crucial that resellers make the effort to set realistic timeframes when working with new customers, or risk disappointing them early in the relationship.”

Adjusting your IoT offering

Resellers and MSPs frequently evaluate and finetune their solution offerings to ensure they are keeping pace with technological change and learning from emerging use cases. This is no different within the IoT arena.

Cellhire’s Griffiths discussed the need for differentiation and innovation. He said, “Research from UK wholesale portfolio market trends shows that 40 per cent of planned services by resellers will be mobile-related and that connectivity will be the mainstay of channel customer revenues. To realise this opportunity and plan, resellers need to differentiate and require innovation, choice and flexibility beyond their current portfolio.”

Griffiths added that channel companies should take a strategic approach to revamping their portfolio. He explained, “Creating a defined strategy, using a product gap analysis approach versus growth use cases and key requirements, will help establish the key technology solutions that are needed to fulfil demand. They will ultimately enable channel partners to take advantage of new revenue streams or replace diminishing revenues in legacy commodity-led products, and identify where they can add value.

“As much as the product needs to be evaluated, so does the need for increased customer conversations to ensure a reseller gets there before its competitors. Not only do such conversations help widen access to new services for resellers, but they also help protect existing revenues.”

Sunderland, from Jola, pointed out the opportunity for channel companies outside of the IoT market to strengthen their portfolio with an IoT offering. He said, “IoT sits adjacent to so many other services that resellers may find it relatively easy to fill gaps in their portfolio. For example, somebody that is already selling traditional mobile could find adding IoT connectivity a natural extension and if you’ve already got businesses that trust you to supply, support and bill their mobile handset SIMs then you’re halfway there.

“You may be providing public cloud consultancy or services. Over 80 per cent of IoT projects are built using one or more services in the public cloud and so there’s a great opportunity to develop an IoT business using tools and technologies that you already know.”

Sunderland explained that Jola works with their reseller partners to help them unlock opportunities within their existing customer base. He said, “IoT opportunities don’t just come because you add an IoT product or service to your portfolio. You already have customers with huge IoT opportunities but you just don’t know it yet.

“At Jola, we have a process called the Mobile-Data Revenue Generator that helps resellers identify opportunities in their existing base and helps develop the necessary products, services and skills to be successful in winning those opportunities.”

For Sacke, from Comms365, ensuring customers have access to the right networking options for their requirements is essential. He said, “For resellers, I think multi-network SIMs [that] ensure access to the best available network signal are a must, as is offering a wide range of networking options, especially low-power networks that provide robust connectivity for battery-operated sensors in remote locations.

“With so much attention on utility costs in the current economic climate, offering a low-power IoT networking solution for energy monitoring and control can only be a win/win! Working in tandem with their customers, resellers also need to consider the entire data journey. Where is the data going? Does it need to be cleaned, or enriched with other datasets? How is it being visualised to, and interpreted by, the end user?

“Answering those questions and enabling customers to turn their data silos into data lakes is the absolute definition of adding value and a sure-fire way to foster longer-term relationships. Though, confidently managing the networks and ensuring robust security protections are in place and monitored, are both critical facets that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Identifying the right partners

For resellers and MSPs that might be choosing vendors to partner with in the IoT space, many of the usual channel partnership considerations will come into play. Sacke, from Comms365, identified three key areas that channel companies should weigh up. He said, “When looking for an IoT vendor, look for three things: time, experience and flexibility.

“Your vendor needs to have time to spend with you, productising their offering, supporting marketing efforts, as well as time with your customers, ensuring all bases are covered in sales conversations moving forwards.

“You will want to work with someone with experience across verticals to accelerate time to deployment. A vendor that can confidently field industry-specific or regulatory questions, and already has the relationships you need to deliver that end-to-end solution that enables better decision-making.”

He added the complexity of many IoT projects often requires bringing together elements from different vendors. “There’s not one key vendor who’s got all the answers. Your perfect partner is probably someone you’ve never heard of, that’s spent decades working through all these considerations and already built the vendor relationships you desire, acting as your IoT network aggregator.”

Jola’s Sunderland offered a similar perspective. He said, “Every IoT solution will involve a variety of vendors from the device manufacturer, connectivity supplier, device management software vendor, application vendor, and cloud or hosting location. In some cases, your customer will be coming to you for just one element of the solution, in others, they’ll be looking for the end-to-end solution.”

He emphasised the importance of partnering with companies that truly understand the channel. “Many vendors are not geared up to sell via the channel and should be avoided. Only a truly channel-only specialist will be able to help resellers at every step of the engagement with a new IoT opportunity. The low-hanging fruit in all IoT opportunities is connectivity.

“The reality is that mobile network operators have quite rigid product sets and limited management bandwidth to deal with a lot of opportunities. Of course, if the opportunity is sizeable then they’d rather win it themselves. Working with a channel-only specialist like Jola we can help resellers win deals with products that deliver more than any of the mobile operators can at prices that will hit the mark for your customer and make a healthy recurring margin for you.”

Costs will inevitably come into any decision-making process, but Le Saux, from Zest4, discussed this should not be over-indexed. He said, “The biggest mistake a reseller can make when looking for an IoT vendor is choosing a vendor based on solely on price. Not all of them will offer the same level of support, service, and education.

“IoT is not a price-driven service or solution, consideration needs to be given to the network, the platform, and portals. Information management and help is required to understand, to get the right proposition and roll it out efficiently.”

Le Saux added the long-term nature of many IoT projects requires long-term partners. “IoT also requires support for in life management. Get the right vendor and you will make this a success, get the wrong one and you may save some money up front, but it will cost much more in the long term with failed customer relations and higher churn.”

Adopting 4G

3G and 2G networks are used in numerous IoT projects across the UK, yet all UK MNOs have agreed they will sunset these networks by 2033. This will have an impact on the IoT market and is something the channel must prepare for.

Sunderland, from Jola, said this has huge implications for the IoT market. He explained, “There are millions of devices out there that only support 3G that need to be replaced. There are millions of SIMs that only support 3G, even if they’re in devices that are capable of connecting to 4G.”

Sunderland discussed how channel companies can prepare for this change. “The starting point should be an audit of your customers’ use of IoT and M2M connectivity and devices. Some major sectors are payment processing terminals, vehicle telemetry or vehicle trackers, remote environmental sensors, or digital signage. In many cases, your customers may not be aware of the ticking time bomb within their own organisation.

“Of course, for the reseller, this is a huge opportunity not just to solve a problem but to save their customer money. The reality is that connectivity costs have come down significantly over the past few years so your customers’ 3G solution likely supplied by one of the big four mobile operators will look very expensive based on today’s prices.

“Of course, swapping hardware could be expensive but, with solutions like the Jola Device as a Service, then you may be able to solve their problem without any CAPEX at all whilst delivering better performance and the latest features.”

The hardware costs could be significant. Sacke, from Comms365, said, “Instinctively, the hardware costs to end-users in replacing their sensors and routers with more modern 4 or 5G devices will be a hard pill to swallow. Therefore, resellers should be having conversations about future-proofing existing solutions now.”

As such, Sacke explained, channel companies should use the coming years to prepare for the transition. He said, “Then there’s plenty of time to explore methods to smoothen the transition, rather than putting a massive one-time cost in their lap in a few years’ time. It’s also an excellent opportunity to reengage generally and ensure there are no further needs to explore outside of IoT!

“The sun won’t set on 3G until 2023 at the earliest, with various infrastructure challenges and industry roadblocks delaying the timescale. Thankfully, this gives resellers ample time to get the word out, focusing on the positives of digital transformation, as well as the power-saving, more environmentally friendly aspects of 4G and 5G, instead of potential price increases.”

This feature appeared in our November 2022 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.