IoT: A perspective on the industry from Dubai

Internet of Things (IoT)I want to share some perspectives and observations from the IoTx conference that took place in Dubai (8-9 June 2015) and brought together the city of Dubai with eminent representation of the IoT ecosystem: Cities (San Francisco), facility management companies, technology companies, Systems Integrators, Data analytics specialists, universities and research institutes.

The various presentations and keynotes clearly showed that this industry is still searching within itself. Everyone senses that IoT is a big opportunity that will profoundly change the way we live and will be equivalent in scale and impact to the industrial revolution in the late 18th century and the computing and Internet revolution in the late 20th century. But disparities are numerous, starting from the various acronyms used to refer to this new industry: Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Everything (IoE), Machine to Machine communications (M2M), Industrial Internet (IE), Cyber Physical Systems (CPS), Connected Society, etc. Also, the IoT ecosystem is quite complex with the variety of players and the blurred business models. In fact according to Gartner, 60% of the companies that will operate in the IoT space by 2020 are unknown to us today…

Attempting to define IoT

To put it simply, Internet of Things (IoT) is mainly about embedding a new generation of intelligent sensors in all the systems, machines, appliances and devices surrounding us and connecting them to the cloud. This covers a broad range of sectors including energy, transport, buildings, water supply, retail, healthcare, entertainment, etc. These sensors send their data to intelligence systems that process it and act back on the connected “things” to coordinate and optimize their behaviour with a view to realizing an improved environmental, economic or business outcome. This is how these connected objects become “smart” or smarter. An example is smart lighting where lamps are switched on and off depending on the street traffic, thus optimizing energy consumption. CPS, a more futuristic approach, gives systems more autonomy through intelligent algorithms (autonomy logic, artificial intelligence) and letting them autonomously operate remotely (remote driving on planet Mars, tele surgery, etc.).  When employed by the public sector to improve the efficiency of urban infrastructure and deliver better service to citizens, IoT underpins the concept of a Smart City. 

The benefits could be immense. According to MIT Labs, shared self-driving and autonomous intersection management could fulfil all current road traffic requirements with only 20% of the cars. And according to Gartner IoT will enable the new Digital Services Economy estimated at 2 T$.

IoT Technology Enablers

IoT is not a product but an ecosystem that relies on 4 key technology enablers:

Intelligent sensors – These are the basic components of IoT. Over the past few years their scope, performance, energy consumption, size and cost have greatly improved. And they are now wireless.

Connectivity – Transmitting massive information from the sensors to centralized processing and analytics systems is key. Various connectivity will be used including Wi-Fi, Fiber (FTTx), cellular networks, and in future 5G that is essential for real-time / ow latency communications. Also, we see the emergence of alternative Low power /Low speed wide area wireless technologies operating in the unlicensed spectrum band that can offer very good sensor connectivity solutions.

Big Data / Analytics – This is the brain of the IoT, it will process the massive amount of data sent by the sensors, correlate it with other sources of information and provide the actionable intelligence (e.g. switch off the lights if no traffic is detected in my example above). This has been enabled by the emergence of big data technologies (such as Hadoop) that renders massive data storage more cost effective, and also powerful analytics platforms using sophisticated algorithms including artificial intelligence.

Cloud computing – This will be the backbone of the entire IoT ecosystem. The processing, storage and networking resources will be offered remotely from data centres in the cloud. But real time applications and low latency requirements are also driving the emergence of local analytics and edge compute resources where the “brain” is located close to the connected object and not remotely in the cloud.

Customer point of view: Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, UAE

It was very interesting to hear the point of view and key requirements expressed by a customer who will deploy and use IoT as part of their smart city project. The 5 key requirements given were:

  1. It has to work. First time. Like a utility – no time wasting on activation, configuration, monitoring, troubleshooting, customization of these systems.
  2. Open platform and connected to data – The platforms that we buy must all be open and connected in real time. Every bit of data must be made available to us and to our tenants and owners (e.g. data related to energy management) – it has to be done in a consumer-friendly way not in an industrial way.
  3. We need Solutions  – the sensor has to come with the app
  4. Business models that work for city developers (affordable and value driven) – in IoT there is no advertising revenues like Internet, so someone has to pay. Models like sharing of benefits e.g. energy savings
  5. Options for consumer security and privacy – users must have the option to choose how much they share/open their data based on the benefit they get

The first requirement is of particular interest. The customer sees IoT service like an utility; it has to work with full reliability. This drives the need for an organization, a process and an automated platform that can manage, monitor and automatically orchestrate the delivery and assurance of IoT services across various domains (sensor/connected object, network connectivity, cloud systems, content). This will be a challenging task, and both telecom operators as well as Systems Integrators have the opportunity to put this organization and platform in place and offer such services to end user enterprise clients like facility management companies or connected cars manufacturers.

Business models and role of Telecom Operators

As stated before, there is no clear business model for IoT. One of the key questions is about ownership of the end customer experience, and the monetization of IoT services. Today new roles are emerging because of the ambitions of facility management companies or car manufacturers to play that ownership role for connected buildings and connected cars. But as I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I believe telecom operators have many strengths they could leverage to become the owners of this IoT experience, or at least act as the IoT managed services providers to the facility management or car companies. Some of the key strengths that telecom operators can leverage include:

  • Network infrastructure that will act as the connectivity backbone for the IoT ecosystem – especially for ultra-low latency and high volume communications
  • Relationship with the consumer – today they offer quad play services (Mobile, fixed, Internet, TV) and tomorrow they could be offering home automation, infotainment, and telematics services. They could also do distribution and billing of IoT services on behalf of government
  • Experience of managing and assuring the quality of very complex networks and services
  • Variety of services that could pay for connectivity, like for example RCS (Rich Communication Services)

The monetization of these services can be through a combination of IoT service quality and availability guarantees (hence the importance of the management and orchestration platform), and revenue sharing on achieving certain business objectives like energy reduction or water savings.

Dubai’s approach

What emerges clearly in this rather confused space that is still in its infancy, is the determination, drive and objectives of Dubai city and what it wants to achieve from IoT. This ambition has materialized in the form of Smart Dubai and Smart government initiatives that are driven by a simple yet profound vision from the top leadership: Increase happiness of citizens, residents and visitors of the city. And the stated ambition is nothing less than becoming the smartest city in the world by 2017, focusing primarily on high scale verticals such as Smart buildings, transport, energy and water. And on the public services side, a stated ambition to turn 80% of government services smart by 2018 with a focus on health, education, safety and innovation.

And this ambition is taking shape in the form of plans that will be measured by a set of KPIs defined by the ITU (KPIs for Smart Sustainable Cities), and Dubai will be the first city in the world to implement and track these ITU KPIs to measure the progress of its smart city vision. So in summary Dubai is well set to achieve its objectives because it has all the right ingredients from strong leadership, compelling vision, structured approach and governance that relies on transparent and measurable KPIs. And this will be a valuable catalyst to the whole global IoT ecosystem.