Complexity is good for business
Compared to other sectors of the communications industry – or indeed any other business area – the sheer variety of technologies, standards, applications, and commercial models possible in the M2M space can make it a daunting environment for users to navigate. For Dan McDuffie, CEO of M2M/IoT connectivity platform specialist Wyless, that complexity is actually good for business.
It continually creates new opportunities for his company as it expands globally, through acquisitions and partnerships, into new markets and use cases. Alun Lewis reports.
M2M Now: Dan, where do you currently position Wyless in the M2M/IoT landscape?
DM: At its most basic, we’re into plumbing and services – that is, we provide connectivity from the device across networks to the enterprise or cloud. Around that core offering there’s a wide range of service, support, design and consultancy that we undertake to help our customers get the maximum strategic return on their deployments. On the one hand , we integrate M2M into their existing systems; and on the other, extending reliable connectivity to wherever in the world they need it. Wyless began life a little over 10 years ago focused on providing that core connectivity. Since then, then we’ve grown our capabilities in line with the emerging needs of the markets we work in. Our clients provide their own imagination – we provide the supporting APIs, technologies, network access and enabling skills, including in many cases the devices and deployment services themselves.
M2M Now: It’s certainly a dynamic market. But the word dynamic often also implies uncertainty and risk. What aspects of the current M2M space do you currently see as changing the fastest?
DM: It’s obviously difficult to select a single specific driver amongst all the frenetic activity out there, but I’d say that one of the most interesting developments in the last few years concerns the range of wireless connectivity options now available. For a start, there’s the truly explosive, and highly successful, growth of LTE deployments across many parts of the world.
On top of that, we’re seeing changes to the regulatory environment as far as the spectrum is concerned, freeing up small chunks of bandwidth – which are ideally suited to M2M services and increase the agility of the different solutions available. Finally, there’s also an evergrowing range of low power wireless connectivity options that can be deployed to create inbuilding coverage, mesh networks, or even personal area networks to support fitness, healthcare and lifestyle M2M applications.
That said, these technology options are only a means to an end. And that ultimate end is all about creating new business models, adding value to existing operations, helping companies and their customers reinvent themselves, and extracting actionable intelligence from devices, sensors and connected plant, equipment and products.
That’s where Big Data tools, specific supporting hardware packages, and mission-specific creativity and insight come into play. It’s also where we’re able to help innovators realise their visions in the most productive, secure, and costeffective ways possible. The more information that you gather, the smarter you can work and the more cost-efficient you can become.
And, obviously, we wrap all these services with the functions needed for customers to control their own destinies – connected devices, lifecycle management, web stores, billing, Quality of Service and so on. We help our customers navigate across the boundaries between these different functional silos to make M2M and IoT as simple to use as possible. We call this entire product line Core2Cloud and we believe now, more than ever, that the time has come for a single company to offer as many of these services in one place as possible.
M2M Now: As you raise the topic of boundaries, there seems to be increasing requirement in the M2M space to support global operations – I understand that Wyless has recently made some international acquisitions?
DM: In February we acquired a majority stake in TM Data – the first Brazilian M2M operator – and thus have created Wyless Brazil. We’re now connected to the four main cellular networks in that country – Vivo, Claro, OI and TIM – and we see the Brazilian presence acting as an important jumping-off point for growing our entire business line across South America and supporting companies from other parts of the world who want to target that region.
Meanwhile, in Europe, earlier this year we also acquired ASPIDER M2M, a Dutch company with a significant and successful focus on the Benelux and German-speaking markets. This represents much more than just geographical diversity play however, as now we have our own core network, open SIM and associated solutions with customers like Philips Lighting, in a sector where M2M and IoT technologies have a huge role to play in both public and private lighting environments, as well as related smart grid and energy efficiency.
Each part of the world tends to take slightly different approaches to M2M/IoT. These are often largely dictated or influenced by the strategies of the regional cellular operators. Some have tried – or are still trying – to enter this market themselves, but they soon realise the specialist skills and platforms required to deliver robust and cost-effective services require heavy investment in what’s currently a tight financial part of the cycle for them.
This is where the thorny issue of standards – or the lack of them – also impacts the direct entry of MNOs into this market. There’s a big difference between simply selling a SIM card for an M2M application and providing comprehensive support for a truly end-to-end M2M/IoT solution over a product and service lifecycle that is going to be measured in years. Both the MNOs and their customers need an independent third party with the skills, tools, platforms and equipment available – that benefits both ends of the value chain – and makes deployment a breeze. We like to think that by being that company, we offer freedom of choice for our partners, not just over the network but across the entire value chain that’s needed to develop and deploy innovative applications.
Driving that, we’ve got close relationships with almost 20 large domestic and international operators, several of whom are using our Porthos service management platform to offer white label services directly to their customers. Complementing those relationships, we also run four highly scalable Network Operations Centres (NOCs) for our private network and cloud services with our network partner Interoute, providing the high levels of resilience, security and redundancy that we in turn need to offer to our own clients. In fact, together with Interoute and their innovative new Virtual Data Centre product, we have the capability to ‘carbon copy’ our Porthos Cloud into what could soon be up to a dozen international locations.
M2M Now: Talking to you I get the impression that you, and Wyless, seem to revel in the sheer diversity of applications and business models now evolving out there amongst your customer base. Which user stories in particular do you find the most compelling either in originality or in impact?
DM: That’s a difficult question as I’d like to think that all our customers are unique and each deserves their own share of voice. At a pinch, and as a fairly representative selection of the breadth of customers that we support, I’d probably start with one application area that has potentially huge personal implications for all of us – or at least those of us who are law-abiding.
We are working on providing a full package of connectivity hardware and services to really innovative British company called Facewatch. Over the last few years, it has built a thriving business, thoroughly endorsed by the British police, that allows pub and shop owners to capture CCTV images of thieves and pickpockets who have hit their premises and customers, and securely share these and supporting witness statements with others in their retail communities and with the police. It’s a very nice example of how our M2M platform can exploit multiple different technologies: CCTV, smartphones, mobile apps, social networking, cloud computing, and facial recognition all for the public good.
Following the success of the system in the UK, Facewatch is receiving huge interest from many other countries and we look forward to using our international presence to help them expand geographically. Another Wyless customer, BiaSport, is also focused on personal safety and health. It has developed a smart watch/GPS/ wearable combo aimed specifically at women. Combining a number of functions, it not only allows its users to track and monitor their activities while swimming, running and cycling and share their performance through social media, but also has an alert button that automatically sends an SMS and location map to a preset list of contacts if something untoward happens while the user is out exercising.
Finally, there’s the Philips Lighting example that I mentioned earlier. It’s difficult for us to imagine, today, how life-changing the appearance of electric lighting in public spaces was around 130 years ago. While lighting technologies have obviously advanced considerably since then, there’s huge potential from M2M, IoT and SmartCity perspectives to start to control and manage that lighting in intelligent and dynamic ways to ensure energy isn’t wasted, repairs are completed quickly and cost–effectively, and the urban living environment remains secure and safe.
M2M Now: And any final thoughts or observations on possible roadblocks in the path towards the M2M future?
DM: If there’s one thing that does concern me (and others I know in the industry), then it’s what can only be called an unjustified arrogance amongst some members of the telecoms sector. After a century or so of total market dominance, some players are still finding it difficult to realise that their continued existence now relies on partnering closely with other specialist players in equal peer-to-peer ways.
Despite having developed and deployed some pretty amazing technologies, many telcos have – ironically – been very bad at innovating when it comes to services and applications. The days of the old status quo are over and business models or technologies once seen as subversive must be recognised as the only viable path ahead for them. We call that Over the Top Technology – and that brings true freedom to the IoT vision.