Blog

What ‘X as a service’ means for the internet of things

October 16, 2018

Tim Sherwood   

Vice-President – Business Development, Mobility & IoT Solutions, Tata Communications.

Times are changing. New digital infrastructure and IoT platforms have made it possible for almost any organisation to enter the market as a mobile virtual network operator, without crippling capital investments.

Take Philips, a company best known for making light bulbs, as an example. The connected world enables Philips to combine its lighting expertise with ubiquitous connectivity, allowing customers to create long-term lighting plans, optimise performance and save on energy, maintenance and depreciation costs. By incorporating connectivity to shift from a product sales model to a services model, Philips has essentially become a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in its evolution to provide “lighting as a service.”

Philips is a great example of the new generation of MVNOs — companies looking to launch and maintain value-added service capabilities that differentiate them in the market. Communications-platform-as-a-service providers have distinguished the new MVNOs from the traditional by offering their services via APIs, which developers use to create IP-based communications services.

The next step in becoming an MVNO is to implement mobile network as a service (MNaaS), which offers a platform for developing and managing cellular connectivity and mobile network policy applications via APIs. MNaaS is unique because it eliminates the need to build and maintain the mobile telecommunications infrastructure; instead, it is integrated with virtualised network capabilities to provide the consumer with greater levels of security, reliability and control.

The MNaaS model is a perfect fit for IoT providers who require embedded connectivity in their smart systems. This approach allows them to benefit from a software-based mobile virtual network enablement model — meaning they don’t have to invest in telecommunications infrastructure. They can instead scale up or down as the situation dictates, creating the flexibility needed to serve millions of subscribers, who may be geographically distributed around the world, rather than just a few hundred in a specific location.

The “X as a service” model is in its infancy and its varied impacts on the internet of things could be huge, mainly due to the number of industries that are developing connected systems. With expanded access to connectivity, as well as lower-cost and higher-performance modems, a wide variety of assets can now be upgraded to collect and transmit data. Using AI and machine learning, this data can be turned into useful business insights, leading to more efficient operations and improved customer service. Overall this would give rise to new services, new businesses and new living standards.

In smart city deployments, sensors connected to central control systems allow businesses and municipalities to monitor and create improved access to parking for employees and citizens. Based on the data collected from the sensors, drivers can use mobile applications to access route mapping and real-time views of parking spaces, and use predictive analytics to see what parking spots will be available when they arrive at their destination. Managers can also use the application to manage parking employee assignments at a given location or project site. This type of improved parking situation can also help with traffic flow and reduce illegal parking. So, if you work at a site where parking is limited and you drive laps around your office parking lot or job site just to find a parking spot, this could solve your problems.

Meanwhile in healthcare, networks of connected devices would bring the treatment to the patients’ doorstep, rather than making people travel distances to get information about their health. Patients can capture data about their own health via wearable devices and doctors can communicate with patients through a combination of online portals and other IoT devices, which could change the nature of the doctor-patient relationship and the way healthcare information is delivered.

For companies looking to launch an IoT “X as a service,” the programmability of MNaaS, via API integration, makes it easier to develop new applications and customer portals. So as an MVNO, you’re able to have improved visibility over your service in order to maintain control, enforce key business policies and ensure system security. The result is far greater operational efficiency — as in the case of the parking lot operator or building manager — and faster speed to market. In other words, you end up fitter, leaner and with a competitive edge.

The demand for companies to meet these expectations is only going to grow. A report by RnR Market Research indicates that global analysts expect the “X as a service” trend to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 38% by 2020. The proliferation of the trend opens up a world of new opportunities for businesses to enhance their services and develop new commercial models to boost value for customers.

But to do this, businesses across industries must stay nimble and capitalise on the many opportunities becoming available thanks to the digital platform economy.

Read Tim’s previous blog on the convergence of IoT and AI.