Orange: Internet Of Things Is Here, And We’re Ready

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Orange Business Services is already connecting millions of ‘things’ to the Internet

Orange Business Services (OBS), the enterprise arm of the telecoms giant, believes cellular connectivity will play a major part in bringing about the Internet of Things (IoT), and says the technology is ready for wider adoption.

Connected cars, remote healthcare and smart metering are just some of the things made possible through machine-to-machine (M2M) communication – protocols that handle automatic real-time data exchange between devices without any human intervention.

OBS has been working with M2M since 2005, and estimates that the cellular M2M connectivity market will be worth €1.2 billion by 2015. In 2012 alone, the company deployed more than three million SIM cards for ‘things’. At a press event last week, it said ensuring consistent connectivity around the world was the main challenge facing its “B2B2C” model.

The time is now

According to widely quoted research by Ericsson, there will be over 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2020, and OBS hopes its end-to-end M2M services will help enable this huge ecosystem.

Cellular connectivity offers a range of benefits in comparison with other M2M technologies – superior range and penetration, use of familiar infrastructure and huge data throughput, especially if we talk about 4G. However, other low-power free-to-use non-SIM based alternatives such as white space radio and Bluetooth are aiming for a large part of the pie, where there are small amounts of data to transfer, where battery life is an issue, and where network charges would make the application uneconomic.

shutterstock_33410914At the Orange event, Beecham Research analyst Saverio Romeo argued that the Internet of Things is already here – with European countries rapidly adopting Smart Meters, businesses implementing digital asset tracking and inventory management, and devices like Google Glass and Galaxy Gear hitting the consumer market. “[IoT] is the place to be for a network operator,” said Romero. “It enables them to become a lifestyle provider.”

According to Emmaneul Routier, global vice president of M2M at OBS, connecting ‘things’ to the Internet can benefit almost any organisation. It helps optimise services through the use of analytics. It can also shorten the time to market, since product development is fuelled by constant feedback. Finally, M2M communication can help businesses get “close to the customer” and tap into the data produced in the course of their daily lives, making products more personal and their success – more predictable.

Rotier believes that in two years, sales of connected cars will grow considerably. Technology will enable car manufacturers to offer additional security, road safety and entertainment features, which companies like OBS could help deliver. “It’s not a car anymore – it’s not just about maintenance, or going to the dealership. It’s about the person driving the car,” said the M2M expert.

However, there are issues that need to be resolved before the idea of an always-online vehicle becomes truly popular. For example, if a 4G-enabled car (or any other networked ‘thing’) goes abroad, who pays for the roaming charges?

In Europe, these charges might soon be a thing of the past, if European Commissioner Neelie Kroes has her way. However, Romero said that for such IoT applications, global connectivity is required. That’s exactly why OBS is currently building a network of partnerships with other cellular operators around the world. So far, it has signed over 500 agreements, and the process is far from over.

“We join forces with other parties to address new needs – it has never happened before,” said Routier. “We need a global solution, and we need it now.”

Romero added that another prerequisite for a quick and easy implementation of IoT technologies is a start-up ecosystem similar to the one that emerged around mobile app development. British chip designer ARM is among several companies that are working towards such ecosystem. And OBS has recently launched its own Intelligent Apps Enabler – a rapid development framework for IoT applications.

Routier said that cellular networks alone will not be able to support 50 billion devices, and “other technologies” were needed. This means that standards like Weightless, 802.11ah and Bluetooth LE all have a part to play in the development of IoT. Regulation around spectrum use will also have to evolve to accommodate new use cases.

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