5G + IoT = Opportunity

Communication service providers (CSPs) are capitalizing on enterprises’ seemingly insatiable demand for Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Achieving their lofty IoT business objectives is often another story.

To plug and play in — and profit from — an increasingly Industry 4.0 world, CSPs must harness the vast amounts of Internet of Things (IoT) data generated by clients in industries spanning entertainment and healthcare to manufacturing and logistics — and convert this insight into highly verticalized solutions. Importantly, they must accomplish this with user consent upper most in their minds — and within the bounds of an increasingly stringent regulatory environment that protects consumers’ privacy, including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The risk could be worth the reward. IoT is poised to be a form of savior for businesses of all stripes and sizes and is expected to generate over $1.5 trillion annual revenue by 2030. And according to Gartner, by next year, one in four large organizations will either buy or sell aggregated data on formal online data marketplaces. CSPs have a unique opportunity to monetize their access to vast volumes of data flowing through their infrastructure. All of this is welcome news to CSPs, many of whom face increased competition and downward revenue pressure on their traditional voice and data services. AT&T and others are already marking their territory in this area.

In addition, investor expectations are higher than ever. The loss of short message service (SMS) and voice services revenue over the last decade has been offset by growth in fixed and mobile broadband revenue. Shareholders expect CSPs to continue to invest in next-generation networks (5G and IoT) without increasing their CapEx-to-sales ratios, to continue their expansion beyond traditional telephony services.

The fast-expanding IoT services market is one way that CSPs can further accelerate their growth trajectory.

A recent study by TMforum reveals that CSPs see IoT platforms as new revenue streams that do not compete with or undermine traditional connectivity services. But building a platform business architecture requires fundamental changes in thinking and a very different way of operating. CSPs’ IT infrastructures, systems, functions and features will all need to:

  • Enable the fast, cost-efficient addition of partners and partner ecosystems
  • Support the flow and settlement of revenue across many partners and in multiple directions to create multi-party trade
  • Have the ability to scale up and down at levels and speeds previously not considered possible
  • Provide information to, and use information from, previously siloed domains
  • Achieve all this with far greater cost efficiency

The task at hand

After watching over-the-top (OTT) content players, messaging and even voice services claim CSPs’ potential revenues, CSPs have a chance to recover lost ground via vertically focused IoT offerings. New revenue-building opportunities are underway, motivating CSPs to rethink their strategies and embed digital into their core business models. This is especially true in the B2B2X market, where IoT will drive efficiency, create value, unlock insights, unleash innovation and enable new business models.

This means that CSPs must create innovative services and applications in vertical markets where there are high-value use cases. Adopting models such as software as a service (SaaS), backend as a service (BaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) for these 5G/IoT offerings will help improve business processes and deliver better services to consumers. Every CSP must effectively determine which set of IoT applications present the greatest potential benefit within the specific markets in which they operate and focus intently on them.

Targeting vertical markets

With revenue for pure connectivity services under increasing pressure, CSPs need to embrace ways of delivering new types of services to customers in specific vertical markets such as agriculture, energy, healthcare, logistics, smart meters and smart homes and the like. Many CSPs have already started this journey. Until recently, operators had been limited in their ability to segment network capabilities to serve specific verticals, but this is changing with the deployment of low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networks including LoRASigfox and NB-IoT. LPWA networks are ideally suited to low-bandwidth access applications such as asset tracking and remote operations/surveillance. For agricultural applications, LPWA networks could deliver cost-effective solutions that are simply not feasible with today’s cellular networks.

5G and IoT increase the opportunities for CSPs to create network “slices” that support use cases with varying requirements for latency, throughput, coverage, etc. CSPs envision offering fine-tuned vertical slices sold in SaaS and PaaS models. For example, a connected vehicle likely would require guarantees of latency, throughput, coverage and security.

To succeed with network slices, CSPs must map them against the products that they bring to market (either directly or via partnerships) and the market segments they target. In the IoT space, product categories are classified as “application verticals” and market segments as “industry verticals.” Industry verticalization represents a new approach to market segmentation. Rather than segmenting the enterprise market based on the size of the company, CSPs must segment opportunities based on the particular vertical or sub-vertical that a prospect belongs to, regardless of size.

Network slicing will eventually do away with bandwidth sharing and the unpredictability of existing networks and has the long-term potential to turn such things as real-time analytics, remote surgery and autonomous cars into reality. The same network will be able to run the 5G trump card, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) – the cellular answer to low bitrate, low-power wide area networks – thus providing interoperability between zero latency and low-power massive machine-type communication (MTC ) use cases in the long run.

Adopting this approach allows CSPs to build a clearer picture of how they can exploit network slicing. Application verticals and sub-verticals can have very different requirements for latency, throughput and coverage. By matching capabilities against different application verticals and analyzing which industry verticals offer the most attractive prospects, CSPs can decide where to focus their efforts and find the right balance between horizontal and vertical approaches.

Therefore, CSPs must target a specific vertical and provide 5G/IoT solutions for many different players in that ecosystem (see 10 vertical industry use cases, below). For example, in the automotive space, CSPs could offer high-bandwidth connectivity to provide a seamless and high quality of service for infotainment, navigation and other services, or explore useful partnerships to leverage specific niche capabilities in smart connected mobility. Low-latency and high-bandwidth connectivity can support “platooning,” where many vehicles with autonomous capabilities drive together in a group, improving fuel efficiency and reducing the number of vehicles on the road. In the future, low-latency, high-bandwidth connections could support remote driving and support (e.g., vehicle maintenance), which will open the possibility of new services and cost savings.

The amount of data from vehicles will grow exponentially with greater proliferation of shared mobility as an alternative to privately owned vehicles, progress in powertrain electrification driven by stricter emission regulations and increased vehicle connectivity. These trends will define new mobility models, and data-enabled services and features where car manufacturers can add data-based business models by monetizing data assets with other stakeholders, such as insurance companies and fleet managers.

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