Andrew Brown, the executive director of Enterprise and IoT Research at Strategy Analytics, recently spoke with Chris Penrose to discuss what AT&T is doing in IoT and how it is addressing the needs of customers, not just in terms of connectivity, but in bringing complete IoT deployments to fruition
AB: Chris, IoT solutions clearly aren’t just about connectivity anymore. What kind of IoT solutions are customers looking for today and how is AT&T addressing those needs?
CP: AT&T has been very active in IoT for many years. We have approved and certified almost 3,000 types of devices on our network and have over 30 million connected devices. Businesses are looking for vertical-specific solutions that will help transform their business, provide cost savings, provide greater efficiencies and offer new revenue generation opportunities to help them interact with their customers in new and different ways. We are covering many vertical industries such as connected cars, connected homes, connected cities, retail, agriculture, and broader asset management, and our customers have solutions deployed around the world.
The other thing that businesses are asking for is how they can get up and running with IoT, both quickly and easily. We have done a lot to create platforms for onboarding and the collection of data that is being obtained from a multitude of connected endpoints.
Naturally, our customers are also concerned with security. The number one thing we hear from people who are getting started in IoT is how can they make these devices secure? We have put considerable investment into a multi-layered security approach to IoT, to protect the device, network and applications layer and offer near real-time threat detection and analytics for businesses, to help ensure that their devices and solutions are as safe and secure as possible.
AB: What IoT capabilities can AT&T provide globally?
CP: AT&T is focused on global-first solutions. We want to make it easy for companies to take their ideas and solutions and deploy them around the world. We were among the first to launch a global SIM, so that customers can take an AT&T SIM and embed it in their products, solutions and equipment and ship anywhere in the world, to light up on almost any local network. We have local carrier relationships throughout the world, in over 200 countries and territories. That means our customers don’t have to negotiate these deals locally; we can roll that up globally for them.
We are doing some other interesting things. For example, we have created an IoT Gateway, which allows us to connect, from a service provisioning perspective, into other service provisioning platforms. While we use AT&T Control Center, not every service provider uses or has access to that platform. The IoT Gateway allows us to plug into other service delivery platforms from other carriers. Customers can then plug once into our IoT Gateway and we can deliver a solution through other carrier service delivery platforms. It’s really about simplification from an IT perspective; we reduce complexity for the customer and help ensure their deployment is simple and costeffective with no rip and replace required.
We also offer a full suite of managed services which can be viewed at www.att.com/iotproservices and https://www.business.att.com/enterprise/Service/. We can do this from ideation, to standing up the solution, to provisioning and billing. These include IoT business and technology strategy planning, innovation assessment, development of an acceleration strategy, and a long-term roadmap that defines architecture, timelines, budget requirements and execution plans.
We have also created an IoT Security consulting practice, available globally, where we can look at a customer’s IoT architecture, see what their setup looks like, where it should be and advise on that accordingly. For more information visit https://www.business.att.com/enterprise/Service/ cybersecurity/consulting/iot-consulting/
Post deployment we’ll offer support through the entire lifecycle. This includes device and SIM management, billing support, customised reporting, assisted trouble-ticket resolution, staff training and more.
AB: What companies is AT&T working with to bring IoT solutions to market?
CP: I think we’ve done a good job on our collaborations. As you connect these devices, the major issue is how do customers get that data into their desired environments and take valued actions from that data? We’ve linked up with some of the leading cloud companies to tie off between our platforms and their cloud solutions. If a customer is standardised on Azure, for example, we have highly-secure plumbing between our IoT Platforms and their cloud environments. We have been working aggressively to move towards Analytics-as-aService and there will be some announcements at Mobile World Congress 2017, so watch this space.
I think the last area is collaborating around the product portfolio itself. For example, in an area like smart cities, there are domain subsets, like smart lighting, smart water, waste management or smart parking and traffic management solutions. We are looking at how we can identify best-in-class solutions and partner with domain experts to create the best solutions for those areas. So, we have teamed up with companies like Mueller Water Products for water management, among others, to bring those solutions to market. We have a full portfolio of solutions that we can offer through a partner channel or through AT&T’s own channel.
AB: What vertical markets is AT&T focusing on and how is it differentiating itself in those markets?
CP: We are structured along vertical lines as an organisation, so we are constantly looking at the ecosystem and identifying trends and opportunities and aligning our resources behind those opportunities, to ensure we are identifying the correct trends and use cases. We have wellestablished offerings in the connected car space as well as adjacent opportunities in areas such as transportation – fleet vehicles or tractors in agriculture, for example.
Beyond those areas, asset tracking and management is a huge vertical for us. For example, we have a well-established deal with Maersk to track their shipping containers around the world. We also have other solutions that cover containers, cargo and tank monitoring in oil and gas environments.
Connected health is another area where we have been busy. We announced a great collaboration with Aira at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), to bring connectivity into a pair of glasses to help the blind and visually impaired. The glasses initiate a call with a trained distributed Aira agent that can assist the person wearing the smart glasses accomplish their tasks. This was an initiative that came about through our healthcare foundry in Houston and is a great example of how we are also bringing consumer IoT solutions to market as well.
We did over 500 deals in 2016 alone and they span every vertical industry. The unique thing about where our group sits is that we see every vertical and can assess whether what works in one industry will apply effectively to another. If we learn something from one vertical, we can help accelerate improvements in another if there is a good fit.
AB: What should customers consider when choosing the right IoT network?
CP: We take a multi-network approach that pairs the network technology with the requirements for the solution being deployed. For example, least cost routing, or optimised network prioritisation, depending on the application being deployed. It’s about having access to the right network at the right time. We want to take the heavy lifting away from the customer, so that it just works and they do not have to make unnecessary decisions. They just want the network to work and do so effectively.
We’ve made a number of investments in optimising connectivity. For example, in 2016 we launched a new service that allows satellite connectivity to work in conjunction with our cellular network. This allows IoT devices to operate on cellular when a signal is available, and then automatically switch to satellite when cell service is unavailable. That means businesses no longer need to purchase their cellular and satellite services separately. They can now use both to manage their IoT devices, networks and applications and do so through a single interface.
This is great for companies in agriculture, oil and gas and many others.
There are many options that make LTE suitable for IoT. For example, in a connected car, you need high mobility, high throughput and low latency, so you may need to opt for the highest category of LTE, but we have also a range of other options. We announced an LTE Category 1 module last year, which gets to a lower price point. Recently, we also announced our LTE-M deployment in San Francisco, our first pilot market, with the aim of blanketing the entire US with LTE-M coverage in 2017. In conjunction with a rich set of technology partners, we will connect a wide variety of IoT solutions challenged by existing network technology. These include smart utility meters, asset monitoring, vending machines, alarm systems, fleet, heavy equipment, mHealth and wearables. LTE -M offers better battery life, inbuilding penetration and lower cost. We also have options with Wi-Fi and short-range technology.
We are also active in 5G, but of course much depends on use cases. There is a lot of discussion around autonomous cars and areas such as remote surgery in healthcare, where ultra-low latency and high throughput is imperative. 5G developments around slicing the network in different ways, in order to create new service classes around different solutions, in different industries, is incredibly interesting. Obviously handling the range of device requirements as well as the sheer numbers of IoT devices is something that will be addressed with 5G.
What we are really asking customers is “What are you trying to accomplish?” and we will put together the right network fabric, securely, in order to achieve the right outcomes for their requirements.
AB: How is AT&T helping to foster IoT innovation?
CP: AT&T is leading innovation in IoT and we are taking multiple paths. We are creating innovation facilities and centers of excellence to speed the ideation and implementation of IoT solutions. We have a dedicated IoT Foundry in Dallas and we also have vertically-focused innovation centres as well, such as AT&T Drive Studio in Atlanta and our Healthcare Foundry in Houston. We are also doing work in the cities themselves, taking the developments out of the innovation centres into the real world. We have a number of ‘spotlight’ cities, where we work with leading technology companies to develop a highly-secure, holistic approach to improving functions like transportation, lighting, safety and sustainability.
At CES, we announced a great relationship with the American Center for Mobility to speed the development of self-driving vehicles. Working with the Center gives OEMs and us the space to explore, create and safely test driverless technologies. We’re exploring V2V and V2X, using all the different bearer technologies. We’ll also serve as the Center’s exclusive cellular network provider through 2020.
We are also exploring the future of drones with the FAA to look at beyond line-of-sight opportunities and how those can best be handled in public airspace. LTE connectivity has the potential to deliver optimal flight plans, transmit flight clearances, track drone location and adjust flight routes in near real-time. Solving for the connectivity challenges of complex flight operations is an essential first step to enabling how drones will work in the future.
We are trying to make it easy for developers to get started with IoT as well. We have developer kits that incorporate many of our tools, connectivity and platforms, such as our M2X, Flow Designer and service delivery platforms, allowing developers to get started out-of-the-box and create IoT solutions.
In terms of forward-looking innovation, the AT&T Labs helps us look at trends over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years, to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation for years to come.