Almost everyone in the world knows what a SIM is. It’s the little piece of plastic with gold bits on it that makes your mobile phone work.
Almost nobody in the world knows how a SIM works.
That’s about to change, as over the next few years we’re going to see SIMs disappear. Or at least the bits of plastic with gold bits on will disappear, as the things that a SIM does get integrated inside your phone. It brings the prospect of changing the way phone contracts work, allowing your phone to do far more, and has the potential to disrupt the current business models of network operators.
There’s a very good one act play by David Greig called “the Letter of Last Resort” (which you can listen to here). It’s based on the premise that one of the first tasks of any new Prime Minister in the UK is to write a set of letters that are sent to the Captains of our nuclear submarine fleet. In the event of their losing contact with the country, it instructs them what they should do. Options include retaliating, by firing their nuclear warheads at whoever they believe were the perpetrators, surrendering, or sailing to some other country and offering them our nuclear missiles.
It’s a gloriously far-fetched political black comedy, based on a modicum of truth. However, it’s likely that a very similar debate is taking place in a boardroom in Taiwan at the moment, as TSMC and other leading silicon chip companies debate what they do in the event of a Chinese invasion. I suspect there’s a parallel one being conducted within the Taiwanese Parliament. Should these plans ever need to be realised, it will have very serious consequences on everyone’s favourite technology and put a stake in the heart of the smartphone industry.
The UK Government has just announced its latest initiative to make us into a technology heavyweight – the ARIA project. What we don’t know yet is whether the fat lady singing the aria is destined to be a consumptive Mimi or a brash Anna Nicole? If the scheme is set up and run by the same people responsible for previous UK tech development initiatives, it’s more likely to be a cut-price Florence Foster Jenkins. Which would be a great pity, as there’s a lot to be said for having a decent funding scheme.
One of the memes that has been going around the industry
this year, particularly amongst platform suppliers, is that the slow growth of
IoT deployments is due to the fact that “Consumers don’t yet understand the
real value of IoT”. It’s an incredibly
arrogant statement, which tells us a lot about the current start-up mentality,
where too many have the perception that they’re entitled to become a billion-dollar
company just because they’ve had the presence of mind to jump on the IoT bandwagon. However, the fundamental fact remains that if
you are going to succeed, you need a business model. Unfortunately, profitable business models in
the IoT are rather thin on the ground, largely because many of the self-styled
IoT experts don’t really understand the market.
What most people do agree on is that the IoT isn’t taking
off at the rate which everyone had expected, although that’s no great surprise
– technology growth curves almost never match the hockey stick curve that
analysts predict. Gartner’s famous Hype
Curve constantly reminds us that the path to ubiquity is strewn with failed
ideas, many of which never emerge from the trough of disillusionment. The IoT suffers from a further problem, which
is that the catch-all name has become to mean all things to all men (or maybe
all machines). Many forget that the
popular IoT poster children which the press pick up and promote as IoT are generally
more fluff than substance.
Which brings us back to business models. The IoT will take off when companies work out
how to make money out of it. Sadly,
that’s proving harder than it may seem, with the more cynical concluding that
the only people to profit from the IoT so far are conference organisers. So, let’s take a look at why developing a
profitable business model is proving to be so challenging.
If you listen to almost any conversation about the Internet of Things you’re likely to find that it fairly rapidly degenerates into a conversation about the communication protocols. Should you use Sigfox or LoRa? How about GPRS? GPRS has already been turned off in most of the US, but it could be around for another decade in Europe. Or what about NB-IOT? Or maybe it’s better to go for LTE-M? Not to forget the new radio that will be coming along in Release 15. Or is it Release 16?
Almost all of this is irrelevant. We already have enough low power, low cost communication standards to fulfil almost any IoT use case we can think of. The problem with the overabundance of ways to transmit data is that it diverts everyone from the more important (and much more difficult) part of the IoT, which is the rest of the value stack. This is the first of two articles where I’ll explain the wider IoT value stack and why we need to stop fixating on the comms. In this one I’ll go through the basics and then, in the second one, follow that up with more detail on security, the business models and the skills you need to succeed in the IoT.
I’ve been wondering for some time how long it will be before Sigfox ditches their own proprietary protocol and adopts a different standard, probably going for NB-IoT. Whilst many may question why they’d do it, making the assumption that the Sigfox protocol is their crown jewels, I’d question that assumption. Last week, at the Sigfox World Expo in Prague, they made an announcement that suggests that that day may not be too far away. I firmly believe that it has to happen, because Sigfox’s business model is looking a lot like Uber’s, which means going for global domination by any means possible. The means to that end is probably not based on their own proprietary protocol.