Sprint: ‘IoT is three simple letters, but it is an incredibly complex beast’
The Sprint IoT Factory, an online marketplace for easy-to-manage IoT solutions launched in May 2018, wasn’t closing as many sales as the site traffic suggested it should be. Sprint’s Head of Product & Solutions Ricky Singh told RCR Wireless News that it started to become clear that while the operator’s small-and medium-sized business customers knew they needed IoT, they had no idea where they needed it, signaling just how complicated the transition of becoming a connected business is, and just how much the role of a telecom operator is changing as IoT becomes a reality.
“We were looking at cart abandonment rates and how much we were paying for digital marketing, and we found that while we were generating a lot of traffic on the site, it wasn’t necessarily leading to conversion and closing sales,” Singh elaborated. “It turned out that while the solutions were easy to deploy and manage after the fact, the ‘where might my business need IoT?’ was where are customers were still challenged.”
So, Sprint decided to revamp the IoT factory, a decision that the operator revealed at CES Las Vegas a few weeks ago. “The redesign is focused around a guided selling experience,” he said.
Instead of taking a customer directly into the solutions, Sprint begins by asking them questions. “What is your business, do you have vehicles, do you have refrigerators?” Singh said. “And then you can say, here’s an ideal IoT deployment solution for you.”
“IoT is three simple letters, but it is an incredibly complex beast,” he continued. “There’s no two ways to do it, there’s no two ways to sell it, there’s no two ways to consume it.”
For Singh, he likes to think of IoT as a Rubik’s cube comprised of networks, devices, platforms and applications. “And you can turn that Rubik’s cube around to solve any specific problem you might need to,” he explained.
In the fast-changing world of IoT, it has been critical for telecom operators to reassess their place in the evolving ecosystem. Sprint, of course, is acutely aware of this. “For IoT, we looked at what the role of the operator was going to be,” Singh said. “We looked at the initial influx of the billions of devices that are now connected. What spurred that? And it was really the smartphone.”
While Singh likes to think of cellular providers as having what is effectively the largest Wi-Fi network in the U.S. in that they can connect anything, anywhere, he also pointed out that, traditionally speaking, carriers have only been reactive to the market. “The carriers didn’t come up with the smartphone, right?” he offered.
It was really the technology era, not the cellular era, Singh continued, that kickstarted this level of connectivity and data transfer. “It was Steve Jobs looking at what you could do with this much compute in your pocket, and the carriers ended up scrambling to react to it,” he said. “And the iPhone broke almost every cell phone network because we were not designed to send lots and lots of data through our pipes.”
“But now, 5G is, for the first time the telecom market saying we can do better, we can enable all of these use cases coming down the line,” he said.
But Singh feels that the exact role of operator in the new era of 5G and artificial intelligence is still being established.
“I say that because we are not going to be the one to determine how AI and 5G are going to be applied,” he elaborated. “That will be the developers and digital disruptors.”
To better understand its emerging role in the market, Sprint started to think about what will drive the next phase of IoT, and landed on the “trifecta of 5G, data storage and AI.”
“IoT 1.0 was just connect and collect, and IoT 2.0 is being able to quickly turn data into intelligence. But that really needed rethinking from a mobile operator’s perspective. So far, our networks are built for one use case and that’s the smartphone, but the demands of that network in IoT 2.0 are vastly different,” said Singh.
Curiosity, the first dedicated IoT network, is Sprint’s way of addressing these new, varying demands. “We separate the traffic at the earliest point in our radio network to get it away from our consumers and then we manage that data in a specific way. Then it’s distributed.”
“We don’t want to be called the dumb data pipe anymore. We don’t want to just be transferring packets and losing the main value in this,” Singh said.
A lot of operators have been focused on selling fully integrated, end-to-end solutions, either by building their own products or acquiring existing companies.
Singh, however, believes that this carrier strategy of building their own vertical solutions or acquiring companies that target specific verticals is short-sighted. “Our response, then, was to build the first network—Curiosity—that is designed with nothing but IoT in mind, with these loosely coupled building blocks, and allow the developers to apply them to their own use cases as they need them,” he reasoned.
It seems that Singh’s solution to how telecom operators can maintain a foothold in the changing connectivity ecosystem is to provide as many colorful blocks of the complex and mutable Rubik’s cube of IoT.