IoT was not new news at Mobile World Congress 2017. But the problems that it presents for telecoms was THE news at this year’s MWC. The challenge is that high performing and safe IoT needs a response from telecoms, but there is no clear, single business consensus for why operators should build infrastructure to support IoT—and, until that consensus becomes more apparent, we may have to suffer more MWCs where cute robots, poorly pixelated VR, and Epcot Center like “Smart Cities of Tomorrow” are shown as rationales for the next generation of carrier network buildout.
The topline question that operators need to answer is “how can we make money from IoT?” And the secondary question would be, “if we can’t make money from IoT, how much will we need to invest to support our customers who will be adopting IoT in ever increasing amounts?”
Three Things in Mind
I’ve found three IoT use cases to be most often mentioned to justify network spend. By far the most mentioned is a network to support autonomous vehicle deployments. The scenario painted is a fantastic one that includes cars, roads, pedestrians, and drones all communicating and synchronized in a super low latency and secure environment to manage transportation with incredibly precise control.
This is a most imaginative and compelling scenario. And I like a good story as well as anyone else, but the question must be asked, “Do we truly need a multi-hundred billion dollar 5G buildout to run smarter and safer cars, when Google self-driving cars have already logged XYZ miles without an accident?”
Business and Industrial Things
A second view is one that is vertically and generally more business and industrial inclined, with remote surgeries, more automated transportation concepts, and so forth. There are many business pursuits and processes that could be aided by sensors and machine intelligence, but it’s simply too early to bet on any killer use cases, which makes it especially dicey when considering investing in IoT infrastructure at any scale now.
The third use case is the substitution of 5G for high speed, fixed services. Verizon and Nokia are now doing a 5G “line of site”, 5Gbps project that could offer an alternative to deploying expensive underground optical cabling for broadband to the home or business.
There is one driving IoT need though that is already a concern, even on today’s more limited networks. And that is IoT security. With the possibility of rogue device attacks that can interrupt services and potentially wreak havoc, reliable security is foundational for the support of even basic services let alone mission critical applications of Things. I suspect you will be hearing much more from us in this regard between now and Mobile World Congress 2018.