Why the consumer IoT is stuck in the slow lane

A slow start for NB-IoT and LTE-M

For telcos around the world, the Internet of Things (IoT) has long represented one of the most promising growth opportunities. Yet for most telcos, the IoT still only accounts for a low single digit percentage of their overall revenue. One of the stumbling blocks has been relatively low demand for IoT solutions in the consumer market. This report considers why that is and whether low cost connectivity technologies specifically-designed for the IoT (such as NB-IoT and LTE-M) will ultimately change this dynamic.

NB-IoT and LTE-M are often referred to as Massive IoT technologies because they are designed to support large numbers of connections, which periodically transmit small amounts of data. They can be distinguished from broadband IoT connections, which carry more demanding applications, such as video content, and critical IoT connections that need to be always available and ultra-reliable.

The initial standards for both technologies were completed by 3GPP in 2016, but adoption has been relatively modest. This report considers the key B2C and B2B2C use cases for Massive IoT technologies and the prospects for widespread adoption. It also outlines how NB-IoT and LTE-M are evolving and the implications for telcos’ strategies.

This builds on previous STL Partners’ research, including LPWA: Which way to go for IoT? and Can telcos create a compelling smart home?. The LPWA report explained why IoT networks need to be considered across multiple generations, including coverage, reliability, power consumption, range and bandwidth. Cellular technologies tend to be best suited to wide area applications for which very reliable connectivity is required (see Figure below).

IoT networks should be considered across multiple dimensions

IoT-networks-disruptive-analysis-stl-2021
Source: Disruptive Analysis

 

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The smart home report outlined how consumers could use both cellular and short-range connectivity to bolster security, improve energy efficiency, charge electric cars and increasingly automate appliances. One of the biggest underlying drivers in the smart home sector is peace of mind – householders want to protect their properties and their assets, as rising population growth and inequality fuels fear of crime.

That report contended that householders might be prepared to pay for a simple and integrated way to monitor and remotely control all their assets, from door locks and televisions to solar panels and vehicles.  Ideally, a dashboard would show the status and location of everything an individual cares about. Such a dashboard could show the energy usage and running cost of each appliance in real-time, giving householders fingertip control over their possessions. They could use the resulting information to help them source appropriate insurance and utility supply.

Indeed, STL Partners believes telcos have a broad opportunity to help coordinate better use of the world’s resources and assets, as outlined in the report: The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms. Reliable and ubiquitous connectivity is a key enabler of the emerging sharing economy in which people use digital technologies to easily rent the use of assets, such as properties and vehicles, to others. The data collected by connected appliances and sensors could be used to help safeguard a property against misuse and source appropriate insurance covering third party rentals.

Do consumers need Massive IoT?

Whereas some IoT applications, such as connected security cameras and drones, require high-speed and very responsive connectivity, most do not. Connected devices that are designed to collect and relay small amounts of data, such as location, temperature, power consumption or movement, don’t need a high-speed connection.

To support these devices, the cellular industry has developed two key technologies – LTE-M (LTE for Machines, sometimes referred to as Cat M) and NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT). In theory, they can be deployed through a straightforward upgrade to existing LTE base stations. Although these technologies don’t offer the capacity, throughput or responsiveness of conventional LTE, they do support the low power wide area connectivity required for what is known as Massive IoT – the deployment of large numbers of low cost sensors and actuators.

For mobile operators, the deployment of NB-IoT and LTE-M can be quite straightforward. If they have relatively modern LTE base stations, then NB-IoT can be enabled via a software upgrade. If their existing LTE network is reasonably dense, there is no need to deploy additional sites – NB-IoT, and to a lesser extent LTE-M, are designed to penetrate deep inside buildings. Still, individual base stations may need to be optimised on a site-by-site basis to ensure that they get the full benefit of NB-IoT’s low power levels, according to a report by The Mobile Network, which notes that operators also need to invest in systems that can provide third parties with visibility and control of IoT devices, usage and costs.

There are a number of potential use cases for Massive IoT in the consumer market:

  • Asset tracking: pets, bikes, scooters, vehicles, keys, wallets, passport, phones, laptops, tablets etc.
  • Vulnerable persontracking: children and the elderly
  • Health wearables: wristbands, smart watches
  • Metering and monitoring: power, water, garden,
  • Alarms and security: smoke alarms, carbon monoxide, intrusion
  • Digital homes: automation of temperature and lighting in line with occupancy

In the rest of this report we consider the key drivers and barriers to take-up of NB-IoT and LTE-M for these consumer use cases.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Do consumers need Massive IoT?
    • The role of eSIMs
    • Takeaways
  • Market trends
    • IoT revenues: Small, but growing
  • Consumer use cases for cellular IoT
    • Amazon’s consumer IoT play
    • Asset tracking: Demand is growing
    • Connecting e-bikes and scooters
    • Slow progress in healthcare
    • Smart metering gains momentum
    • Supporting micro-generation and storage
    • Digital buildings: A regulatory play?
    • Managing household appliances
  • Technological advances
    • Network coverage
  • Conclusions: Strategic implications for telcos

 

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Growing B2B revenues from edge: Five new telco services

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Edge computing has sparked significant interest from telcos

Edge computing brings cloud capabilities such as data processing and storage closer to the end user, device, or the source of data. There are two main opportunity areas for telcos in edge computing. Firstly, telcos have an opportunity to provide edge computing via edge data centres at sites on the telecoms network – network edge, sometimes referred to as multi-access edge computing. Secondly, telcos can offer edge-enabled services through compute platforms at the customer premises – on-premise edge.

Although there is an opportunity for telcos to offer new services and an enhanced customer experience to their consumer customer base, much of the edge computing opportunity for telcos is in the B2B segment. We have covered the general strategy operators are taking for edge computing in our previous report Telco edge computing: What’s the operator strategy? and through insights on our Edge Hub. Within enterprise, edge offers a chance for operators to move beyond offering connectivity services and extend into the platform and application space.

However, the market is still young; enterprises are still at an early stage of understanding the potential benefits of edge computing. There is limited availability of network edges; telcos are still deploying sites and few have begun to offer mechanisms to access the edge compute infrastructure within them. As a result, developers are only just starting to build applications to leverage this new infrastructure.

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Telcos are still grappling with defining the opportunity. Since adoption is so nascent, many feel that they are not able to prove the commercial case to unlock significant investment. Some operators are pushing ahead by building out edge infrastructure, securing partnerships and launching edge computing services. Nonetheless, even these operators are keeping an open mind to edge and waiting to see what unfolds as the market matures. What is clear is that, with the hyperscalers and others moving into the edge, telcos are increasingly keen to capitalise on the edge opportunity and solidify their position in the market before it’s too late.The sweet spot opportunity for edge is highly dependent on telcos’ starting points: some have existing capabilities within B2B networking and cloud, partnerships, and strong customer relationships. But for other telcos, the B2B business is at a very early stage. Meanwhile, edge infrastructure build differs across telcos, with some choosing to partner with hyperscalers to create the hardware and software stack within edge data centres while others are opting to build their own stack.

It is therefore critical for telcos to:

  1. Assess whether they can leverage existing B2Bservices, customers and partners versus where they need to invest to fill the gaps
  2. Understand which factors may affect how successful they are in offering new edgeservices
  3. Prioritise which servicesthey could offer to B2B customers

In this report, we focus on answering the following questions:

Which B2B services can edge computing add value to? And how ready are telcos to take new edge services to market?

In order to better understand how operators are thinking about edge services and what they are looking to offer today, we interviewed eight technology and strategy leaders working in operators primarily across Europe.

To ensure an open and candid dialogue, we have anonymised their contributions. We would like to take the opportunity to thank those who participated in this research. A summary of the interviewee profiles is provided in the Appendix.

Telcos’ B2B businesses today

As consumer revenues come under increasing pressure, operators are looking to their B2B businesses to provide a new source of revenue growth. The maturity of their B2B businesses today varies from those who have a limited offering focussed primarily on phones, SIMs and basic connectivity (particularly mobile-only telcos, e.g. Three UK), to those who are providing full vertical applications or taking on the role of systems integrator (often incumbents or telcos with fixed networks, e.g. DTAG, Vodafone). Many telcos are looking for opportunities to take on more of the latter role, by expanding their B2B offerings and increasing their foothold in the value chain e.g. by offering managed services. Particularly with the arrival of 5G, they see greater potential to grow revenues through B2B services compared with B2C.

Maturity levels of telcos’ B2B business

Table of content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Strategic principles for B2B telco edge
    • Telcos’ B2B businesses today
    • Three telco strategies for B2B edge
    • On-premise edge and network edge are separate opportunities
    • Telcos are open to partnering with the hyperscalers for edge
  • Five types of B2B edge services
    • Edge-to-cloud networking
    • Private edge infrastructure
    • Network edge platforms
    • Multi-edge and cloud orchestration
    • Vertical solutions
  • Evaluating the opportunity: How should telcos prioritise?
    • It’s not just about technology
    • However, significant value creation does not come easy
    • Telcos should consider new business models to ensure success
  • Next steps for telcos in building B2B edge services
    • Prioritise services to monetise edge
    • Evaluate the role of partners
    • Work closely with customers given that edge is still nascent
  • Appendix
    • Interviewee overview
  • Index

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Telcos in health – Part 2: How to crack the healthcare opportunity

This report is a follow-up from our first report Telcos in health – Part 1: Where is the opportunity? which looked at overarching trends in digital health and how telcos, global internet players, and health focused software and hardware vendors are positioning themselves to address the needs of resource-strained healthcare providers.

It also build on in depth case studies we did on TELUS Health and Telstra Health.

Telcos should invest in health if…

  • They want to build new revenue further up the IT value chain
  • They are prepared to make a long term commitment
  • They can clearly identify a barrier to healthcare access and/or delivery in their market

…Then healthcare is a good adjacent opportunity with strong long term potential that ties closely with core telco assets beyond connectivity:

  • Relationships with local regulators
  • Capabilities in data exchange, transactions processing, authentication, etc.

Telcos can help healthcare systems address escalating resourcing and service delivery challenges

Pressures on healthcare - ageing populations and lack of resources
Chart showing the dynamics driving challenges in healthcare systems

Telcos can help overcome the key barriers to more efficient, patient-friendly healthcare:

  • Permissions and security for sharing data between providers and patients
  • Surfacing actionable insights from patient data (e.g. using AI) while protecting their privacy

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Why telcos’ local presence makes them good candidates to coordinate the digital and physical elements of healthcare

  • As locally regulated organisations, telcos can position themselves as more trustworthy than global players for exchange and management of health data
  • Given their universal reach, telcos make good partners for governments seeking to improve access and monitor quality of healthcare, e.g.:
    • Telco-agnostic, national SMS shortcodes could be created to enable patients to access health information and services, or standard billing codes linked to health IT systems for physicians to send SMS reminders
    • Partner with health delivery organisations to ensure available mobile health apps meet best practice guidelines
    • Authentication and digital signatures for high-risk drugs like opioids
  • Healthcare applications need more careful development than most consumer sectors, playing to telcos’ strengths – service developers should not take a “fail fast” approach with people’s health

Telcos have further reach across the diverse  healthcare ecosystem than most companies

The complexity of healthcare systems - what needs to be linked
To coordinate healthcare, you need to make these things work together

However, based on the nine telco health case studies in this report, to successfully help healthcare customers adopt IoT, data-driven processes and AI, telcos must offer at least some systems integration, and probably develop much more health-specific IT solutions.

Case study overview: Depth of healthcare focus

Nine telcos shown on a spectrum of the kind of healthcare services they provide
Where Vodafone, AT&T, BT, Verizon, O2, Swisscom, Telstra, Telenor Tonic and TELUS Health fit on a spectrum of services to healthcare,

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Telcos in health – Part 1: Where is the opportunity?

Why is healthcare an attractive sector?

  • Healthcare systems – particularly in developed markets – must find ways to treat ageing populations with chronic illnesses in a more cost effective way.
  • Resource strained health providers have very limited internal IT expertise. This means healthcare is among the least digitised sectors, with high demand for end-to-end solutions.
  • The sensitive nature of health data means locally-regulated telcos may be able to build on positions of trust in their markets.
  • In emerging markets, there are huge populations with limited access to health insurance, information and treatment. Telcos may be able to leverage their brands and distribution networks to address these needs.
  • This report outlines how the digital health landscape is addressing these challenges, and how telcos can help

Four tech trends are supporting healthcare transformation – all underpinned by connectivity and integration for data sharing

These four trends are not separate – they all interrelate. The true value lies in enabling secure data transfer across the four areas, and presenting data and insights in a useful way for end-users, e.g. GPs don’t have the time to look at ten pages of a patient’s wearable data, in part because they may be liable to act on additional information.

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Digital health solutions break down into three layers

Digital health solutions in 3 layers

This report explores how telcos can address opportunities across these three layers, as well as how they can partner or compete with other players seeking to support healthcare providers in their digital transformation.

Our follow up report looks at nine case studies of telcos’ healthcare propositions: Telcos in health – Part 2: How to crack the healthcare opportunity

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B2B growth: How can telcos win in ICT?

Introduction

The telecom industry’s growth profile over the last few years is a sobering sight. As we have shown in our recent report Which operator growth strategies will remain viable in 2017 and beyond?, yearly revenue growth rates have been clearly slowing down globally since 2009 (see Figure 1). In three major regions (North America, Europe, Middle East) compound annual growth rates have even been behind GDP growth.

 

Figure 1: Telcos’ growth performance is flattening out (Sample of sixty-eight operators)

Source: Company accounts; STL Partners analysis

To break out of this decline telcos are constantly searching for new sources of revenue, for example, by expanding into adjacent, digital service areas which are largely placed within mass consumer markets (e.g. content, advertising, commerce).

However, in our ongoing conversations with telecoms operators, we increasingly come across the notion that a large part of future growth potential might actually lie in B2B (business-to-business) markets and that this customer segment will have an increasing impact of overall revenue growth.

This report investigates the rationale behind this thinking in detail and tries to answer the following key questions:

  1. What is the current state of telco’s B2B business?
  2. Where are the telco growth opportunities in the wider enterprise ICT arena?
  3. What makes an enterprise ICT growth strategy difficult for telcos to execute?
  4. What are the pillars of a successful strategy for future B2B growth?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Telcos may have different B2B strategies, but suffer similar problems
  • Finding growth opportunities within the wider enterprise ICT arena could help
  • Three complications for revenue growth in enterprise ICT
  • Complication 1: Despite their potential, telcos struggle to marshal their capabilities effectively
  • Complication 2: Telcos are not alone in targeting enterprise ICT for growth
  • Complication 3: Telcos’ core services are being disrupted by OTT players – this time in B2B
  • STL Partners’ recommendations: strategic pillars for future B2B growth
  • Conclusion

 

  • Figure 1: Telcos’ growth performance is flattening out (Sample of sixty-eight operators)
  • Figure 2: Telcos’ B2B businesses vary significantly by scale and performance (selected operators)
  • Figure 3: High-level structure of the telecom industry’s revenue pool (2015) – the consumer segment dominates
  • Figure 4: Orange aims to expand the share of “IT & integration services” in OBS’s revenue mix
  • Figure 5: Global enterprise ICT expenditures are projected to growth 7% p.a.
  • Figure 6: Telcos and Microsoft are moving in opposite directions
  • Figure 7: SD-WAN value chain
  • Figure 8: Within AT&T Business Solutions’ revenue mix, growth in fixed strategic services cannot yet offset the decline in legacy services

Cloud 2.0: Telco Strategies in the Cloud

Will Telcos be left behind?

Introduction

Cloud services are emerging as a key strategic imperative for Telcos as revenues from traditional services such as voice, messaging and data come under attack from Over The Top Players, regulators and other Telcos. A majority of these new products are delivered from the Cloud on a “pay for consumption” basis and many business customers are increasingly looking to migrate from traditional in house IT systems to Cloud-based or virtualized services to reduce costs, increase agility and decrease deployment times. Gartner recently estimated that the Cloud services market would be worth over $200 billion by 2016, roughly double the value of 2012 and with a CAGR of around 17% whereas traditional IT products and services will see just 3% growth.

It is clear that some Telcos have gained a greater understanding of the Cloud market, and are acting on that understanding, offering increasingly rich Cloud-based products and services, paving the way for Cloud 2.0. But for most Telcos, Cloud services remain secondary to their core business of voice and data delivery. Telcos are wrestling with issues of reduced margin on Cloud and how to stay relevant to their business customers.

This report looks at the development of the Cloud market providing clarity around the different types of cloud products and the impact that they have on business users. Cloud value propositions are examined along with criticisms of cloud products and services. We show that the current risks for Cloud customers represent an opportunity for Telcos and Cloud vendors because….

The report also looks at the development of Cloud 2.0 – a second generation or a more ‘intelligent’ evolution of Cloud products and services. Cloud 2.0 offers key additional benefits/capabilities to consumers, vendors, businesses and Telco/Service providers. These can be typified by cost reductions in the delivery and consumption of cloud services through working with scale players to provide basic compute services, ease of acquisition and most importantly the ability to deliver “mash-up” products and services by using API’s to provide integration between cloud services and products and Telco/service provider products such as Bandwidth, Voice, Management, Support and Billing. Cloud 2.0 is gaining rapid momentum and we show how there is still time for Telcos to play a key role in Cloud 2.0.

Who should read this report?

The report is a ‘must-have’ for all strategy decision makers, Cloud specialists and influencers across the TMT (Telecoms, Media and Technology) sector; in particular, CxOs, strategists, technologists, marketers, product managers, and legal and regulatory leaders in telecoms operators, vendors, consultants, and analyst companies. It will also be invaluable to those managing or considering medium to long-term investment specifically in Telco Cloud services, but also more broadly those involved within telecoms and adjacent industries, and to regulators and legislators.

Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction

  • What is Cloud?
  • What is the Cloud Value Proposition?
  • Types of Cloud
  • Key criticisms of the Cloud
  • What is ‘Cloud 2.0’ and why does it matter?
    • Enterprise vs Consumer cloud, Fit with Telco 2.0 strategies

Market Structure & Opportunity

  • What is the shape and size of the market (revenues and profit)?
    • Total size, definitions of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, VPC + forecasts
    • Advantages and limitations of XaaS definitions
  • What are the key customer segments and their needs?
    • SMBs vs Enterprise
    • Early adopters vs mass adopters
  • What is the opportunity for Telcos (market size and revenues)?
    • Share forecasts / ranges for Telcos
  • What are the most relevant cloud services for Telcos?
  • What are the key barriers?
    • Overall and by segment
  • Future Scenarios
  • What is the competitive landscape and who are the key players in Cloud Services?
    • Detailed competitor analysis, groupings by type and strategy Strategy review: Analysis of 6-10 key players, covering
      • Objectives, strategy, areas addressed, target customers, proposition strategy, routes to market, operational approach, buy / build partner approach
    • Key strategies of other players
    • Role of the network / operators to Vendor/partner strategies

Telco Strategies

  • Which strategies are Telcos adopting and what else could they do
    • Review of Telco attitudes and approaches based on following analysis
    • Grouping of Telcos by approach (if valid)
  • Which are the leading Telcos and what are they doing?
    • Case studies on 6-10 leading Telcos, covering:
      • Objectives, strategy, areas addressed, target customers, proposition strategy, routes to market, operational approach, buy / build partner approach
  • Outlines of 10 additional Telco strategies
  • What relationships should Telcos establish with other ecosystem players?

Conclusions and recommendations