IoT Strategies for Mobile Network Operators

IoT has become a focus area for most of Mobile Network Operators MNO worldwide. However, the basic question remains the same: Where are the real IoT business opportunities for MNOs to go after and strategize for volume and scale?

First, let’s be clear, IoT is not just an isolated business segment; it’s an integral part of a bigger digital transformation picture.

Some mobile operators are already in an advanced stage with a mature IoT strategy in place, while others are falling behind or somewhere in between.

It’s no secret that MNOs face today’s challenges of commoditized voice & data markets while experiencing saturated subscriber growth. In addition, they face the challenge of competing with the technology disrupters and global digital platform players that have become technology heavens, attracting fresh innovation, large investment, and financial market attention.

However, MNOs still have the upper hand and solid position with regards to the ownership of their customers’ base engagement – both consumers and enterprises. MNOs will eventually be able to leverage that, monetize and generate long-term IoT growth in broader digital transformation where it has now begun to transform a wide range of industries.

What MNOs Can Learn

First, let’s look at lessons learned from two examples: 1) Digital content monetization and 2) Mobile payments.

In the first example, leading MNOs have realized how critical a media content strategy is to enabling growth and successfully moving up the value chain. Different enabling strategies have been put in place, such as the acquisition of media channels, partnerships, and building media content delivery platforms. All have enabled MNOs to monetize, bundle new subscription-based services, and generate higher data traffic on their networks with new packages and revenue sources.

In the second example, specifically in emerging markets, MNOs have leveraged partnerships with the financial sector to create new purpose-built payment services around low ARPU customers to execute secure mobile payment transactions. This service has enabled a wide range of community-driven business models.

The lessons learned from these two examples is that MNO’s solid ownership of their customer base combined with an in-depth understanding of market requirements and dynamics have enabled the creation of strategic partnerships that can drive business opportunities.

In the new era of digital transformation, where data-driven opportunities will significantly shape business growth, MNOs are in the perfect place to take the lead, scale, and move up the value chain above and beyond IoT connectivity.

Data Integration is the Core

IoT is bringing new set of data attributes that relate to the devices and sensors associated with the end user’s eco-system. Let’s call it user device data.

As an example, one user might have a car or bike or use public transport. That user may have a phone, a medical device,  a smartwatch. He or she may visit a doctor, live on a farm or in a smart city, consume electricity and water, study, and so on.

All the surrounding and embedded devices and sensors will generate a huge amount of data attributes that relate to this user in one way or another.

The amount of user device data will surpass the number of users and proliferate to form a unique IoT opportunity to explore.  Data generated by user devices will need to be integrated with other data sources such as weather, traffic congestion, pollution monitoring systems, mobility management, social media streams, and safety alerts.

This integrated and proliferated data holds many promises in almost every sector, including wearables, healthcare, transportation, smart cities, utilities and energy management, traffic congestion, retail, and pollution management.

In many cases, this integrated data will also be driven by evolving community-based activities.

MNOs can play an essential role in leveraging customer ownership by thinking in that direction. Innovation in solutions that enable data integration to create data contribution and sharing incentive mechanism and models for customers will play major role to advance growth.

This will also require strategic integration plans that include integrating user data across multiple sectors and industries on an IoT data aggregation platform, open developer & API-centric services, secured authentication, on-demand capacity, advanced big data analytics tools, and integrated flexible billing capabilities.

The fast pace of today’s evolving technologies, falling hardware costs, shrinking power requirements, standardization, cloud- and edge-based services, open networks, big video and wireless ultra-speed like 5G will accelerate the creation of an exponentially increasing amount of high-value integrated data.

In addition, growing business environment concepts such as the shared economy, combined with the advancement of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, will forge this new direction even faster.

With socioeconomics as the underlying baseline for growth, MNOs need to take a more active and leading role with regulators and data policy makers to adapt data-driven mindset. Strategically, they need to build the needed infrastructure in collaboration with the public and private sectors to form an integrated ecosystem. Smart Cities initiatives are a perfect model to start with.

This will accelerate overall digital transformation, creating new IoT possibilities. It won’t happen overnight, it will happen fast. How MNOs will benefit will depend on how fast they put in place, adapt, and execute data-driven integration strategies for IoT.

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