May 3, 2019

Looking up the IoT Value Chain

People are so preoccupied with everyday tasks that they often miss out on what is around them.
Walking down the street, how often do you catch people looking up at the features of old buildings or roof-level signage? The same is true in business life. Let’s consider how this plays out in the IoT market.

Recently, I heard a telco executive explain why mobile network operators (MNOs) focus on connectivity. He pointed to two factors. One is that connections and data connectivity are straightforward things to measure, with a well-established legacy from mobile phone sales. In effect, businesses manage what they can measure. The second is that it is easy to look down at the network from the MNO’s vantage point in the IoT technology stack. It takes an effort to lift one’s head and look up. That’s much like missing out on the architectural features and art work when we walk head-down (even without the excuse of a smartphone) along a street.

Occasionally, however, it makes sense to look up, not just to appreciate your surroundings but also to get a sense of whether the world is changing and how you might need to adapt.

South Korea is always a good place for telecoms-sector ideas on planning for long term change. I was reminded of this in connection with the current industry buzz around the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G. In 2016, the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) delivered a report on its Mid-to Long-term Master Plan in Preparation for the Intelligent Information Society [1]. The study looked at the role of AI in the context of converging market developments. These included the Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data analysis, and mobile technologies. And, here’s an illustration of the concept it used to frame its analysis. Note the upward-facing arrows that direct businesses to where new value will be created.

For readers interested in national strategy and civic responsibility, there are several interesting observations and recommendations about the implications of AI on the workforce, the economy as well as for peoples’ lifestyles and living environments.

A more recent look up from everyday demands came in a publication [2] from Telenor Connexion and the consulting firm, Northstream AB. Their top five predictions for the IoT market are as follows:
  1. Enterprise data will take the lead in data trading
  2. Digital value will be unlocked faster 
  3. Connectivity will be at the centre of digital product innovation 
  4. Connectivity will push eCommerce even further 
  5. Managed connectivity will be even more important 
None of these predictions should come as a surprise [3], especially as there seems to be a greater push by large industrial firms to make better use of 5G in their local environments [4].

From the MNO perspective, there remains an emphasis on connectivity, albeit of the managed variety. This is understandable in the context of industrial firms now looking for service guarantees for IoT applications that are both business critical and which permeate large parts of supply chains. Data features in the mix but there is no clear path or inspiration for how MNOs can and will capitalize on new opportunities.

Why does any of this matter? From my own experience in the telecoms industry, I come across a lot more activity at the higher layers of the IoT stack along with an absence of committed MNO participation. Just to be clear, mobile remains a vital platform on which service providers are developing new concepts and building innovative businesses. Mobile, however, is treated as an off-the-shelf input. And, few mobile operators are active in promoting capabilities beyond connectivity.

So, here is an idea to encourage the mobile industry strategists to look up and around them. Think about combining the Internet’s pay-per-click model with mobile network data; the latter is already used to monitor road traffic congestion. A slightly different possibility comes from this example of a company using mobile network signal-strength data to forecast local weather conditions [5].

If new data resources, drawing on measurements that are taking place in mobile networks, and industrial-strength tools to provide third-party data access along with usage tracking could be offered, what new sources of value could the mobile industry tap into?

Image Credit: Eric Froehling via

[1] Mid-to Long-Term Master Plan in Preparation for the Intelligent Information Society, Managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (2016) 

[2] 5 IoT Trends for 2019, 

[3] There are new markets for industrial IoT data - 

[4] Bosch in Worcester has become the first-ever British factory with 5G wireless access, thanks to an innovative trial programme (2019) 

[5] Your smartphone’s wireless signal can be used to forecast the weather

1 comment:

  1. 23 May 2019 update

    Telcos' biggest market, smart cities, want 5G to work – but terms and conditions apply

    “Forget about selling handsets,” Brynskov said, urging telecom players to instead, “Think about how you will even operate in this space. That’s going to be your biggest challenge.”