2015 is being touted by many as a make-or-break year for the Internet of Things (IoT). In this quarter’s Executive Outlook, Andrew Morawski, Head of M2M Americas at Vodafone explains the carrier’s role in the IoT space, how the company is innovating low-power networks for embedded M2M devices, and identifies potential growth areas for the IoT in the coming year. Edited excerpts follow.
Most people think of Vodafone as a carrier in the more traditional sense. Briefly, how has Vodafone positioned itself in the IoT, and how does this benefit designers of IoT products and applications?
MORAWSKI: At Vodafone, we focus on machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, which makes the Internet of Things possible by connecting machines, devices, and objects to the Internet, turning them into intelligent assets that our customers use to communicate with the world around them and provide connected solutions to consumers. M2M solutions open up a new range of possibilities for businesses – how they operate, how they grow, and how they keep customers happy. We are one of the leading providers of M2M technology globally, with more than 20.1 million connections on our network as of the end of December 2014.
Designers of IoT products and applications benefit from using Vodafone’s global M2M network, which provides a secure and reliable connection. Using M2M, devices can send and receive data — about temperature, weight, location, or any number of other factors — as well as requests to each other and to central management systems, autonomously.
You recently announced a technology called the Cellular IoT. Can you describe this technology and how it will work to serve low-cost, low-power embedded devices that will connect to the IoT?
MORAWSKI: The Cellular Internet of Things is an early-stage technology concept being trialed by Vodafone.
The trial uses a network access layer specifically designed for low-power Internet of Things applications, like water meters or fire extinguishers. By operating in Vodafone’s licensed spectrum, manufacturers will be able to ensure performance and reliability as the number of objects and devices needing a low-power, low-bandwidth connection increases. Vodafone is already a leader in M2M technology and developing the Cellular Internet of Things network will complement our existing and extensive range of connectivity services and solutions.
Speaking of low-power, low-cost devices that use cellular connectivity to connect to the IoT, what advice do you have for developers of these systems as 2G, 2.5G, and other networks begin to go offline?
MORAWSKI: 2G and 3G are alive and well in many regions, and we feel for the near term that a 2G/3G enabled device is a good option for M2M deployments.
With that being said, we are constantly looking to take advantage of new technologies. For instance, we are in the process of enabling our global M2M SIM for LTE, making this a viable option for M2M/IoT applications that need to take advantage of the speed and longevity LTE promises. Over the next few years, we believe that 4G will improve the ROI equation for many M2M solutions and enable new ones for carriers and M2M customers.
Many people have begun posturing that 2015 is a make-or-break year for the IoT. What are some of the challenges still facing the IoT, and where do you think IoT will be by the end of the year, from an industry perspective?
MORAWSKI: The transformational potential of IoT is real, but challenges exist from a cultural and technical perspective. From a cultural standpoint, it’s important for companies to take steps to ensure their organization is “IoT ready” to drive maximum potential from IoT opportunities while simultaneously respecting the interest that consumers have in maintaining the confidentiality of their personal information. This includes establishing a C-Suite buy in, a commitment of time and resources from key stakeholders, and building a workforce that is ready to work with IT in a collaborative manner.
With consideration to technology, according to a study conducted by Vodafone in 2014, 75 percent of M2M adopters say they are using analytics and 88 percent expect to do so in three years’ time. While analytics are being viewed as an inherent part of an IoT strategy, enterprises will need to invest to ensure proper skill sets are in place and address the privacy and security risks associated with storing large amounts of data.
Also, there have been lots of talk about competing standards for the Internet of Things, but in the coming years, the industry will be forced to put one industry-wide standard in to action – whether by collaboration or by consumer choice. While the openness of the Internet of Things has been positive up until this point, leading to outstanding innovations, as more and more solutions are put into place customers will want the knowledge that their solutions are future-proofed and won’t be obsolete in a matter of years due to differing protocols. Industry leaders will have to work together or risk being left behind.
Looking ahead, we expect to see the IoT continue to take hold across industries, and, in particular, growth in the automotive sector is likely. Consumers are increasingly expecting connected services in new vehicles – from economy to luxury models. Beyond new models, this will also drive the aftermarket to create solutions for existing vehicles that didn’t come installed with these types of services.