Connected objects: what’s the best strategy for operators ?

Tue 16 Feb 2016

“At last the Internet of Things appears to be taking off, bringing unprecedented opportunities for operators who know how to spot and exploit them.”

By the year 2020, between 30 and 212 billion connected objects* could be interacting and generating a deluge of data of all kinds. What are the principal development paths of the Internet of Things? 

P. V. The first development area is obviously the individual. More and more people are adopting devices to monitor their activities: after the smartphone, there are now watches, bracelets, jewelry and clothing with communicating sensors. The web giants are throwing their weight into the balance to accelerate the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). Apple is setting an example with its recent communicating Apple Watches, while Google and the Levi Strauss jeans company are working hand in hand on the Jacquard project to take the lead on ‘Clothes 2.0’. Even more avantgarde, the Chaotic Moon mobile development studio has designed a connected tattoo that picks up and transmits several biometric parameters! In addition to these ‘wearables’, we find onboard sensors in many other places, notably in homes and vehicles where the IoT holds out much promise, improved safety in particular. 

The second IoT development path concerns all the possible ‘connected environments’. First, in the professional sphere, offices, factories and worksites will become increasingly smart, which will help to optimize their activities, for example though predictive maintenance and stricter safety rules. Public environments will also generate more information as they become more networked. Emerging smart city concepts give us a first glimpse of a world totally and permanently connected whose citizens will see radical changes such as better regulated traffic, better security thanks to smart surveillance, better monitoring of epidemics, and an amazing range of geocontextualized services to meet every imaginable information need. Already we are seeing rapid development of urban monitoring applications to serve citizens. In the environmental field, the ‘smart grids’ already under trial in many places will make substantial energy savings for households and enterprises. Numerous startups are developing ‘green’ applications: floating sensors in rivers that change color to indicate the water quality (The Living), and portable connected objects that measure atmospheric pollution (Plume Labs), to mention just two examples. 

How can operators find a role in this complex ecosystem? And should they ? 

P. V. Several possibilities appear as soon as we consider operators’ traditional assets: 

- At hardware level, in parallel with developments projects with direct or FabLab funding, operators are already adapting their networks to serve connected objects and are initiating customers in the new potential usages made possible by activity and other sensors. 

– At service level (B2B, B2C), the aggregation and analysis of data streams opens unprecedented opportunities for operators hoping to lead the field on over-the-Internet services. Orange has opened its Datavenue platform, initially reserved for startups, and created new sections (Live Objects and Flexible Data) to enable companies to improve their customer knowledge and create new services and products. 

– Finally at network level, operators must address the vital challenge of carrying the ever-increasing data deluge. They will face new and highly specialized network operators, for example ones deploying Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN, which are long-range, low-bandwidth networks connecting low-energy objects). The firm Machina Research predicts that LPWANs like those of Sigfox, LoRa and Neul will be carrying 14% of all M2M data by the year 2024.

In France, Orange will start by equipping 17 cities in 2016 before densifying its network, to ensure optimal quality of service, as and when it signs up with insurers and building managers. 

The IoT network battle is only just starting! 

*Source : Montaigne Institute, April 2015.

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