Vodafone is launching a new range of end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) services as it continues its transition from being a pure telecom business to the wider world of connected technology.
The Newbury-based operator has been one of the most vocal supporters of cellular-based IoT technology, both in terms of product launches and support for industry standards like NB-IoT.
Its investments and scale mean Vodafone is frequently named as one of the leading global IoT providers by analysts. And after years of technology and service development, Vodafone believes the combination of awareness and necessity means IoT is finally ready to become a mainstream proposition.
The company now hopes that its new services will drive IoT adoption among SMBs, many of whom are interested in IoT, but fear implementation is too complex or expensive.
Vodafone SMB IoT
Disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led many businesses to accelerate their digitisation so they can maintain and enhance the customer experience and to identify new opportunities for growth.
Going forward the company sees IoT, along with 5G, as key components of its transformation from a mere provider of connectivity into an IT company that can provide fully integrated services to organisations of all sizes.
“As a group, we want to be a technology [and] communications company,” Anne Sheehan, Vodafone UK Business Director tells TechRadar Pro. “It means connectivity and mobility will always be at the heart of everything we do but we want to move into adjacent areas.”
At the heart of Vodafone’s IoT proposition is simplicity. It says a lack of in-house expertise combined with a belief of long return on investments is stifling demand from SMBs. There is, Sheehan suggests, a view that IoT is only for large enterprises with vast resources.
She says Vodafone is determined to ‘bust’ that myth, not least because the SMB market promises to be one of the most valuable for operators and the company has traditionally been strong in this particular segment of the market.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses, SMBs account 99.9% of the business population and three fifths of all employment. Even if the customers are smaller, its still a huge market for Vodafone to tap into through its existing relationships.
Its new IoT service for SMBs promises to combine devices, sensors, software, management platform and support into a single offering that can track, monitor and manage assets, and provide complete control over data. The subscription-based model replicates many of the benefits of cloud in that SMBs that have lower access to capital and skills than larger enterprises can still benefit from the IoT.
Vodafone plans to ‘co-create’ customised services with SMBs, assisted by technology and developers from IoT.nxt, a startup acquired by Vodacom in South Africa whose resources have been made available to the wider group. A secure deployment of IoT.nxt’s platform is now available in the UK, powering the new SMB service.
“At the moment you have to go to [separate] device manufacturers, service providers and software developers,” says Sheehan. “This can be prohibitive and the barriers to entry become high.
“Other organisations might be put off because they think the ROI is too long. Our ambition is to democratise IoT – it doesn’t matter if you’re a small organisation or a big one.
“Awareness is high – around 70% of SMBs [know] what IoT can do. But the challenge is making it affordable and [overcoming the belief] that it’s only for multinationals.”
“We want to be number one for connectivity in IoT globally. We want to be an end to end offering in every market and take global leadership.”