Fragmentation spurs interest in IoT-as-a-service model

One of the great challenges of the Internet of Things (IoT) is for network operators to support the very diverse requirements of customers in different verticals, from high bandwidth in-car data services, to critical emergency systems, to massive numbers of devices in a stadium application. For the physical network requirements, operators are starting to think about slicing – optimizing a virtual sub-network for a particular service.

But the specialized needs of a vertical industry IoT application do not stop at bandwidth and latency – they go up the stack to applications development and management, quality management and pricing models. The complexity of supporting these contrasting stacks is driving new interest in private networks run by vertical specialists (even if these may be virtual in a 5G sliced future). It is also logically creating a market for ‘IoT-as-a-service’, which manages apps, security, connectivity and the commercial model in a single cloud-based offering.

Two examples came to light this month, one in the intelligent vehicle market, and the other in LoRa-based low power wide area networks (LPWANs) to support applications such as smart cities.

The vehicle-based solution was pioneered in Finland by MaaS Global, with its Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platform, which is now starting trials in the UK. The first implementation was in Lapland, in Finland’s rural north, where the Aurora test system has been trialling various digital transport infrastructure (DTI) and connected cars initiatives, as well as autonomous driving.

But MaaS goes a step further by providing a single interface and application – called Whim – which covers all significant intelligent transport services from public transport, to car hire, from wireless driver assistance to (in future) autonomy. That is now the center of live systems in use in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and being tested in the UK’s west Midlands region. There is a particular emphasis on providing alternative to private car ownership, in line with government green programs and smart city initiatives.

“Our purpose is to offer a real alternative to owning a private car. The Whim application allows people to fulfil all their travel needs with just one application, combining all the modes of transportation into one. With one monthly fee, users can use public transport, taxis or hire a car”, said Kaj Pyyhtiä, co-founder and CXO of MaaS Global. The company recently raised over €10m in a funding round led by Toyota and its insurance partner Aioi Nissay Dowa, highlighting the interest of carmakers in connected vehicle and smart transport developments.

“Finland’s strong connectivity and mobile background has inspired Finnish start-ups to create new solutions that can be utilized in vehicles and enrich the auto industry”, said Mikko Koskue, intelligent vehicle and mobility solutions program director at the Finnish Trade Organisation Finpro.

Meanwhile, Comms365 is also exploring the potential of IoT-as-a-service by combining the LoRa LPWAN technology with its existing range of data connectivity services, to support end-to-end IoT services from connections to applications and data analysis.

The UK-based company will target large and small businesses and is initially focused in particular on three applications where LoRa has a track record – smart parking, smart waste management and smart vermin control. LoRaWAN gateways collect data from sensors installed in parking spaces, waste bins and vermin traps to increase efficiency in managing these services and predicting usage levels.

Nick Sacke, head of IoT and products, said in a statement: “The challenge that many organizations, regardless of size, are encountering, is how to design and build an IoT network capable of total estate coverage that supports their business goals. The IoT industry is still fragmented, and customers are being presented with a number of innovations and alternatives from hundreds of players. The result is a ‘wild west’ market scenario that adds perceived risk that many businesses are unwilling to take. The launch of our LoRaWAN solution is the final piece of the puzzle in allowing us to offer seamless, complete IoT connectivity for deployments cross-vertical that eliminates the need for businesses to navigate an increasingly complex market.”