How M2M and IoT Managed Service Providers are shaping up for a busy future
Wireless Logic was formed in the UK in 2000 with a focus on selling connectivity to laptop users. This was the time of the birth of the mobile data market, where the focus was squarely on hardware. But just as the market has evolved to give rise to M2M and now the Internet of Things (IoT), so too has Wireless Logic. The company now has offices in Germany, France and Spain, and is seeing 60 per cent year-on-year growth in the European market.
Philip Cole, sales and marketing director for Europe, who co-founded the company with CEO Oliver Tucker, says the change was all down to listening to the needs of its customers.
“We started looking at M2M from 2007, investigating new verticals and non-phone devices,” he explains. “We now have 950 solution providers that buy from us, selling to their networks of customers. In total, we have a virtual sales team of 4,500 people worldwide, supporting 1.6 million customer subscriptions, and are signing up 30 to 40 new solution providers every month.”
Wireless Logic’s largest markets are the energy sector and utilities, followed by automotive and traffic management, smart metering, and smart signage. It recognises 10 main vertical markets, and is discovering hundreds of sub-verticals within these.
SIM estate management
With many of its customers operating vast networks of M2M and IoT devices, all connecting via mobile SIM cards, Wireless Logic has adopted what it calls a “Glocal” approach, working with 26 mobile network operators at both global and local levels. These large SIM estate owners need to efficiently manage their devices, keeping control of potential expenditure issues resulting from the high cost of data usage. It’s also about selecting the right network for the application, in terms of latency rates and congestion issues.
Global SIM (or roaming SIM) can provide multiple network operator access, but this tends to be suitable more for small applications, consuming up to 10MB of data per month. With higher data consumption applications, a local mobile operator is usually a more economical choice. And increasingly M2M applications are utilising the higher data throughputs made possible with 3G and now 4G networks, moving away from the constraints imposed by GPRS.
“That’s been the big shift,” says Cole, referring to the increase in data usage of remote devices. “Three to four years ago our customers were doing about 2MB of data a month, but applications are becoming more sophisticated. Whereas in the past, a vehicle fleet company might have just wanted to track a driver to make sure he was on the right road and moving, now it has evolved into the management of the vehicle itself, linking in to insurance issues, and so forth. So the average now is around 18MB of data per month. And some high bandwidth solutions can reach 1GB – we even have a train operator customer who requires 20GB per month.”
But how do you manage multiple mobile networks? When you are using different platforms, different protocols, integrating new and old deployments, trying to utilise the same standards regardless of mobile network, dealing with multiple and inconsistent tariffs and differing levels of service experience, it can be a formidable challenge.
What you need is a software platform for M2M devices, enabling them to communicate through multiple networks to one central management application. Wireless Logic has been developing the SIMPro platform over the past 10 years, with the focus on reducing call-out costs for their customers. Take, for example, a remote Costa Express coffee machine. If there is a problem with the vending machine, it can cost £50 to £100 in call-out costs for an engineer to visit, and when you have thousands of these machines across the country, costs can soon spiral.
“Our customers use our SIMPro platform to manage and control all their devices,” says Cole.
“They can see in real-time the usage levels and therefore mitigate any commercial risk – the last thing you want is to leave an unwanted CCTV camera running for weeks, as costs will simply escalate. For many companies, managing 50 employees with their phones is sufficiently difficult – now think about managing 1,000 devices, all widely dispersed. It is imperative to have the visibility to remotely manage these devices in the field.”
The company also offers its NetPro service – a carrier-grade, secure, private network with co-located data centres, which acts as an overlay network for the global mobile operators. Wireless Logic can use this to provide its customers with a service level agreement to ensure near 100 per cent uptime across their VPN – something not achievable with a standard public offering from a mobile network operator.
“With 950 solution providers covering all verticals, we don’t have to be rocket scientists,” explains Cole, “we just have to listen to our customers’ requirements.”
One of the earliest M2M enablers was vehicle tracking, but an increasing percentage of the market is now moving towards static M2M deployments, such as car parking, street signs, roadside lights, and yes, even coffee machines.
“As more M2M moves from mobile use to static use, it’s about giving customers the best coverage, and that’s using the right bearer services,” he says, adding that these could also include satellite and fixed line networks. “Customers may be best served by Vodafone in one area, or Orange in another, depending on coverage and signal strength – both elements are critical. And in the future, White Space spectrum from providers such as SigFox might be included in the mix.
“You need a solution that offers one window into many networks, one that overlays existing networks and gives customers platforms where platforms don’t exist. Mobile SIMs are primarily designed for voice use, and don’t have these dedicated platforms.”
It’s not just about connectivity though; M2M operators are looking towards the consolidation of services using fewer providers. They want their managed services provider to offer secure networks, device management, granular billing platforms, cross network aggregation, infrastructure, mapping, hardware, industry experience – in addition to connectivity. And the list goes on: financial stability, an agnostic approach, global presence, scalability, flexibility, speed to market, and the capability to deliver a solution over all types of communications networks, not just cellular.
“Above all, customers are looking for visibility and control,” says Cole. “The challenge is to educate the market that specialist solutions exist, rather than let them buy a voice SIM from a local phone shop. Too many companies think that all that’s required is a SIM card, but we can show them the benefit of having multiple layers of functionality and value. And it’s about granular billing; they want to consolidate the connectivity but don’t want the headaches of billing. Granular billing is vital for service providers to get up and running quickly. In the end it comes down to increasing the reliability of their M2M solution.”
Having a static IP address for M2M devices is another important service that the company provides. If you deploy units in remote locations, you still want to be able to fully interrogate them.
“Modems are quite dumb, so having routing capability is hugely valuable, saving customers a fortune in software development,” explains Cole. “In M2M, it’s all about doing more at the network layer. Adding intelligence to the device means that remote engineers can interrogate them, and ease of routing makes the software stack less complex and less expensive.”
Platforms are required that can manage multiple level access, visibility and SIM management, enabling organisations to build complex hierarchical structures through a single uniform window, and to manage operations and get quick resolutions to problems. Real-time, two-way communication with remote devices via SMS using device management commands will ensure that their services remain switched on and operational.
Consumerisation of M2M
“We’re just starting to see the consumerisation of IoT,” says Cole. “It’s been B2B-focused for so long, but we’re now seeing B2B2C applications emerge. However, there remain many challenges, and a lot of our customers are still tweaking their business models to make it work for consumers.”
Consumer IoT represents a huge opportunity for the industry, but providers have to persuade consumers to embrace it without seeing it as just another cost. Consumers will be unlikely to pay extra simply for the privilege of having an IoT connection in a white goods product, but they would be more likely to buy into the technology if it resulted in better performance or provided them with an enhanced service.
“Solution providers will find traction by incorporating IoT in consumer goods for the benefit of the manufacturers,” believes Cole. “Today, IoT is seen as a solution for providers to monitor their products for their benefit, rather than that of the consumer – for example washing machines, so that they can remotely check their operation and servicing. But it’s starting to change; connected heating controls and burglar alarms are providing tangible benefits for householders. The consumerisation is happening, but we are still a long way from the 50 billion IoT devices that are being forecast.”
There are many other issues related to consumer IoT services. For example, how do they manage multiple devices? What consumer service plans will emerge? Will consumer goods always come SIM-enabled or will consumers want choice for their connectivity? And how will they acquire these services?
“Consumerisation could be massive,” says Cole, “but there is much work still to be done. There needs to be a seamless transition to IoT, and in many instances consumers won’t necessarily need to be aware that they have IoT devices in their homes.”
In the meantime, Wireless Logic will continue to build out its business and its managed service offerings. It is adding more ‘bolt-on’ services as part of its multiple platform services, aiming towards seamless deliverable solutions and the provision of a genuine one-stop offering. It is also going to be expanding its presence in more countries – offering local knowledge to local companies, and creating sustainable country businesses.
“We have big expansion plans,” says Cole. “We’ll be announcing additional European roll-outs to meet the need for local mobile network operator solutions, especially as the market moves to higher bandwidth applications. People love their local operator brands, so we will leverage that.”
The company places a lot of attention on enabling value-added services, adding layers of value to the basic SIM card. Over the last two years, Wireless Logic has moved into mapping, offering services with location awareness. It is now supplying customers with mapping data from Nokia’s HERE and has signed up 250,000 subscribers in the past 18 months. The company is also Google’s OEM global partner for mapping, giving customers a choice of mapping data.
Leveraging its technology and relationships, it has recently been awarded its first platform-as-a-service (PaaS) contract – offering a major car manufacturer its own platform to manage M2M devices across six different mobile network operators, enabling it to still work directly with each of the operators whilst simplifying management.
“Selling our platform as a standalone service is just one new innovation. It’s also about empowering the channel to remarket managed services to their own customer bases with shared revenue models,” says Cole. “We give our customers an a la carte service menu, from which they can pick and choose. As time goes on, we expect customers will take more of these value-added services. And we are enabling the channel to get these products and services out to market quicker. We do whatever we can to increase value for our customers and enhance their capabilities.”
Philip Cole is the European sales director for Wireless Logic Group. He started his career in the IT industry in the late 1980s, and with co-founder Oliver Tucker, established Wireless Logic in 2000, which was purchased in 2002 by mobile distributor Phones International. In 2011, Philip and Oliver led a successful MBO with equity partners ECI Partners for £35 million. Philip is now one of the UK’s most influential experts within the M2M sector.