The Telco/Utility Model

Something strange is happening in a rubbish bin in Milton Keynes. On his way to the bus stop, Alex drops a drinks carton into it. The bin’s sensor system detects that an item has passed the top ridge of the container. It sends out a signal that alerts local rubbish trucks. Before Alex’s bus arrives, Becky’s truck comes to empty the bin. Milton Keynes Council’s MK:Smart partnership is trialing new kinds of sensor systems at a city scale. This experiment uses new communication channels, bypassing mobile phone masts and WiFi hubs. These channels can use electromagnetic spectrum with much longer wavelengths. If the communication system needs to pass on small amounts of information at a time, it doesn’t matter if the waves are more spaced out.”
Jessica Bland
, here on Nesta.

Yesterday’s blog covered an interesting opportunity for telcos to generate new streams of income, specifically in the form of delivering smart city capabilities. The concept takes sensor networks or IoT (Internet of Things) to a city-wide scale.

Telcos already have the network reach, the subscriber base, the service volumes, customers within all market sectors and have been servicing sensor networks like traffic lights for years.

BT has already cottoned onto the opportunity, working with Nuel, a provider of low power, connected sensor networks in a trial at Milton Keynes called the MK:Smart project.

The trouble with IoT and smart city concepts is in the ability to build a compelling business case around them. The tech may sound exciting, but do rubbish bin sensors produce business benefits. There’s no doubt that clever innovators will develop concepts that are beneficial, popular and profitable, but I wouldn’t expect the telcos to corner that market, just as they are unable to provide all of the most successful apps that leverage their wireless networks.

The opportunities for telcos like BT are to provide the platform that supports the whole tail of users, the successful and not so successful. Opportunities in markets such as health-care, transport systems, emergency services, education, etc. This is where tools that I’ll loosely call OSS come in. These “OSS” tools are probably a combination of telemetry, analytics, user portals, content delivery, etc all rolled into one. Just as Nuel has provided it’s Weightless-standardised technology to provide the sensor network platform for BT and MK:Smart, the opportunity exists for “OSS” providers to build the frameworks that telcos will provide to their customers to build smart-city / smart-grid / IoT applications on.

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