How Internet of Things (IoT) Technology is Used in Telecom
Due to their massive customer bases and necessary reliance on maintaining an edge in products and services, the telecom industry has always been ready to explore new technologies. With the advent of the Internet of Things and its rapid integration into markets ranging from agricultural to toy manufacture, the major telecom carriers have all invested heavily in researching ways to exploit the technology.
In fact, many would say telecom has been the major driver for widespread adoption of IoT. It wouldn’t be the first time telecom led the way. Most dramatically, multiple carriers led the push the retirement of the POTS copper landline telephone network in favor of superior IP and cellular-based technologies. The industry sees a great opportunity in IoT, and it is already working hard to take the best advantage. Here are some of our favorite ways IoT has impacted telecom, and vice versa.
Mobile devices are positively ubiquitous these days. According to the Pew Research Center, over two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone or other mobile device, and the numbers are growing fast overseas. IoT, as a technique for remotely monitoring and controlling devices from across the room, across town, or across the world, are natural fit with mobile.
The two technologies grew up together. The iPhone, certainly the first smartphone to reach mainstream adoption, was released in 2007. The Internet of Things as we know it today was conceived in 2009, defined by Cisco as the point when more “things” than people began to communicate over the Internet.
It’s difficult to determine, therefore, whether IoT drove mobile adoption, or whether the rise of mobile drove the spread of IoT. What is certain is that the two technologies are inextricably linked. A smartphone is a natural control surface for IoT applications of all kinds, and IoT would be significantly less useful if we could not use our phones to interface with IoT networks by viewing data or controlling devices. As the caretakers of the mobile networks, the telecom industry is at the center of this trend.
The other way in which mobile telecom has spread the adoption of IoT is much more recent. The first widely-used mobile pay solution, Google Pay, was first released for general use in 2011. Since then, it has found competition in the form of Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, and platform-agnostic solutions like PayPal’s brick-and-mortar offering.
The importance of mobile pay cannot be overstated. It is faster, more convenient, and with the advent of biometric security devices like Apple Touch ID, more secure than traditional cash or card payment methods. Its integration directly into the mobile phone only serves to further cement the device’s place at the center of our digital lives. Our phones are used to track our household goods, to choose them, and to purchase them. The popularity of phone cases that hold a few credit cards points to the market’s desire to eschew wallets entirely, and it’s not difficult to envision a future in which all of our personal and payment data is stored digitally.
Business Verticals (Time Warner Home)
From a business standpoint, the telecom industry is very accustomed to offering a wide range of products and services. The trend is known as vertical integration, and has been commonplace since cable television providers first started bundling channels. The idea spread rapidly, and soon reached its logical conclusion as cable companies began offering telephone service. Today, the reverse is also true, with telecom carriers offering TV. All the while, almost every major telecom firm has offered a slew of tangentially related services over the years, most notably security alarm systems.
The reason why this strategy has been so successful is a matter of convenience. Customers tend to want an end-to-end solution. “One-stop shops” like Wal-Mart and Target are successful because shoppers can rely on them to carry practically anything they may need. For a telecom company, home automation, Internet access, telephone, and television are different sides of the same coin. The same type of consumer is likely to need all of them, and the major carriers are happy to provide.
From the standpoint of the Internet of Things, integration with a telecom is an obvious fit. The control hubs and often the sensors themselves need an Internet connection to operate, and purchasing those devices from the ISP itself often makes sense. Time Warner and Comcast have been offering complete home automation solutions for several years, and competitors in the telecom industry are quickly following suit.
Telecom Advanced Research into Internet of Things
Telecom has made a heavy investment into IoT, and the scope of that investment means it is in the industry’s best interest to ensure the technology’s continued success. To that end, many of the largest telecom firms have established special research divisions, think tanks, and skunkworks labs dedicated to the continual advancement of the Internet of Things.
AT&T has established the AT&T Foundry program, which operates six collaborative innovation centers across the world. Hosting community “hackathons” as well as serving as the focal point for AT&T’s own research, the Foundries have supported over 500 tech-related startups since they were first established in 2011.
Two of the six AT&T Foundries are devoted to IoT technologies. The Atlanta Foundry, established in 2013, focuses on connected car and connected home technologies. The newest Foundry, located in Houston and opened in 2016, is laser-focused on connected healthcare. AT&T keeps their Foundry website updated with their latest projects and breakthroughs, and it is well worth a look.
AT&T isn’t the only telecom firm to establish an advanced IoT research program. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has operated the Telekom Innovation Laboratories, colloquially known as the T-Labs, since 2004. The T-Labs explore a wide variety of subjects, including innovations in smart garments and IoT-enabled robots.
As Verizon said so succinctly, “IoT is now mainstream.” A study the mobile telecom giant sponsored concluded that as of 2015, 72% of organizations feel that IoT is critical to their competitive advantage. The amazing thing about the Internet of Things is its flexibility and its applicability to a shockingly broad range of products and services. The technology transcends the bounds of any individual industry, and is poised to truly transform the way we work, live, and communicate.