What happens when M2M grows up?
There’s a tipping point in the growth curve of many technologies when they break out of the closed domain of the specialists and into the wider world. We’ve all seen examples of new technologies – and more efficient ways of working and living – being hampered by clumsy marketing, arcane terminology and an inability by experts to see things from the user’s point of view and explain the benefits in language that’s relevant to customers. Alun Lewis reports from Scandinavia on leading edge experience.
For Robert Brunbäck, VP Marketing at Telenor Connexion, the specialist connected business solutions wing of the Telenor Group, our industry sector has now reached that critical stage when it needs to start turning outwards much more if it’s to truly deliver its full potential.
“The market out there is now changing very rapidly,” he says. “While there’s continuing and growing activity in the classic base of industrial M2M applications, this is now being joined by a more rapid rate of take-up under the much broader Internet of Things (IoT) vision. As a result, solutions now have to be engineered that are able to reach directly into the consumer space and that can also reflect and enable both the brand values of the company using them and the lifestyle of the end customer or user. In this context, the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone is fast becoming an invaluable tool when it comes to supporting the seamless connectivity and advanced services that consumers demand.
“We’ve already got two very good examples of this approach,” says Brunbäck. “Firstly, in the wellness area, we’ve partnered with Telcare – one of the key innovators in this field – who have developed a fully FDA-approved wireless-enabled blood glucose meter targeting the 100 million or so people worldwide who suffer from this disease and need fast, secure and reliable feedback if their blood sugar levels start to deviate too much. Telenor Connexion worked closely with the company to help them develop this life enhancing – if not actually life-saving – solution.”
Brunbäck adds, “Secondly, on the home security side, we’ve been working with Verisure, part of the Securitas Direct Group, to allow people to use their smartphones to continue to remotely monitor their homes even when they’re away from them. Our co-operation spans from technology solution design to operations across multiple markets. The Verisure journey is all about moving from being a company largely focused on security to one that’s a true enabler of the Smart Home vision, where their intelligent connectivity hub not only manages alarms, but can also keep track of when the children get home from school, can open a door to the plumber remotely – and keep an eye on them – and even start heating up your sauna before you get home – an attractive application for Scandinavians! It’s also an important step in
creating one key building block that will contribute to making Smart Homes a working reality.” Given its long history as a pioneer in the area of ‘connected things’, it is logical enough that Telenor Connexion should emphasise the importance of helping synchronise innovation and development across the entire the value chain. It can trace its intellectual history back over 15 years and, following a mix of mergers and acquisitions, was formally created as Telenor Connexion in 2008, migrating a number of customers across to its platforms from other members of the Telenor Group.
Telenor Connexion’s latest acquisition, of Swedish M2M Cloud specialist Iowa AB in September this year also marks another shift in both its own strategy and that being followed by much of the rest of the ICT sector.
Brunbäck explains: “On top of those standard requirements of a device connectivity platform – reliability, security, coverage and easy front and back integration – there’s also an increasing need from many of our customers to get to market as quickly as possible to differentiate themselves in their own target markets. Often, their own M2M development teams will be working outside their own core IT operations.
“The kinds of culture needed to innovate rapidly and creatively, especially where the world of smartphone apps and content are concerned, don’t always fit well with traditional corporate IT organisations. This is extremely important if a company is making a strategic transition from a pure product play to one involving services aimed at enhancing ownership and enriching the customer relationship over the longer term.”
He continues, “We want to make it easier for companies to get started and explore the possibilities in this connected space. We provide the expertise, tools and development resources right from the initial design stage, throughout implementation and rollout, and including the management of the complete solution over time into the future. It’s therefore invaluable if there’s a flexible and almost infinitely scalable set of solutions, APIs and supporting processes waiting on tap for them in our Cloud domain. Not only can they get to market quickly, but all the components involved are both well-proven and specifically optimised for connected services on a local or global basis. Once again, any issues here are instantly going to impact negatively on the wider brand and we clearly recognise that our customers’ reputations are very much in our hands.”
Brunbäck is also keen to emphasise the growing importance of open standards in this sector in cutting costs and time to market – but also the essential truth of much of the connected business solutions space in that each customer will require a different solution tailored to their own specific needs. In some cases these differences will be minimal – in others they will major.
“While it’s obvious that the existence of open standards lowers the entry barriers for all concerned,” he says, “the longer term benefits are going to accrue from sharing data with other entities and opening up new cross-industry collaboration models. Shoe giant Nike is just one example of how new technology can significantly add value and change the ways that customers interact with brands. Collaboration with technology companies such as Apple, TomTom and Microsoft has created a new set of digital services that helps Nike build loyalty and strengthen its customer relationships. The new communications technologies of the last decade or two have helped break down numerous boundaries. The merging of the Cloud and M2M domains is going to help drive this sharing still further and bring benefits to companies and rganisations that previously inhabited very separate worlds.
“Once again,” Brunbäck adds, “the smartphone will play a crucial role in the end-to-end chain,adding rich visualised value to both personal and enterprise customers, helping them monitor, manage and interact with their devices, data and processes in truly personalised ways. Similar issues apply to other increasingly connected environments, such as cars, trucks and other plant. A lot of our R&D work is currently focused on this vitally important growth area, finding newer and better ways to interact with our customers and
support their own decision making.
As ever with any vision, the devil does often reside in the data, and Telenor Connexion is focusing very heavily on finding ways to optimise and protect the ever larger volumes of M2M data flowing over its network and those of its partners. Most significant here was one announced at the end of October concerning an agreement with leading semiconductor firm ARM to license its Sensinode software – the first of its kind in the M2M area. Developed specifically to provide standards-based, energy-efficient and secure M2M services, this agreement builds on Telenor Connexion’s existing use of ARM’s Sensinode tchnology.
Telenor Connexion plans to expand its portfolio of standards-based products and support IoT applications using ARM’s IP technologies and its NanoService data management and Web application platform, developing connected business solutions that leverage ARM Sensinode technology and exploit key standards such as OMA Lightweight M2M, IPv6, TLS, DTLS, and CoAP.
“Any value chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” stresses Brunbäck. “It’s essential that you take a holistic view when developing connected services as you have to keep in mind the fact that most products being supported may have a lifecycle of up to 10 or even 15 years. Building a technology-agnostic approach – coupled with flexibility in the business model is, therefore, vital if customer solutions are to be supported and enhanced over time. Most of our customers start with quite a basic use case, but often end up using a far more advanced solution after a few years as they begin to understand the wider strategic advantage that it gives them. Our role is to spur innovation and ensure that our customers stay competitive through the use of connected services.”
He concludes, “Many of our customers are also starting to see the benefits of connected services when it comes to supporting their own green agendas, cutting unnecessary transport and energy costs and moving towards the connected environments that will characterise the Smart Cities and urban spaces of tomorrow. At Telenor Connexion we believe that connectivity and smart use of real-time information is one of the
key cornerstones of a more sustainable society.”