While virtually no one is disputing that Internet of Things products and services will be game-changers once they reach fruition, it's fair to say that the ecosystem is currently fragmented and rife with complexities.
In October, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) launched its IoT platform, "ThingSpace," to address some of the challenges across the various use cases, which include agriculture, healthcare, sustainability, public safety and urban development.
Last month, Verizon announced it was opening up ThingSpace to third-party developers and technology service providers. (See Verizon Opens More Doors to IoT platform.)
At the same time, Verizon said its cloud-based APIs on ThingSpace will soon be available in beta testing. The APIs are designed to help developers for mobile apps primarily used to curate and retrieve photos, videos, music and other cloud-stored content.
Verizon also said it was working with Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) to build out its IoT core network, which will be finished later this year. While a large portion of IoT products and services will ramp up on LTE and 5G networks, the IoT core network will provision IoT use cases that can run on low power and low bandwidth.
Verizon's Mark Bartolomeo, vice president IoT Connected Solutions, recently provided more insight into ThingSpace and IoT in general during this interview with Telco Transformation. The second part of the Q&A with Bartolomeo will run on Friday.
Telco Transformation: How about we start with some background on ThingSpace?
Mark Bartolomeo: We launched that based on the proposition that IoT is complex and the market adoption rates were still relatively nascent because of the complexity. We believe that by building ThingSpace -- leveraging our connectivity platform and applications -- we could simplify IoT by combining all of our assets into a single solution. We can also help in pulling together the fragmented ecosystem.
That was the proposition at the end of the year. Looking from today back, I still believe that's the fundamental driver of IoT. It's about the user experience. It's about reducing the complexity.
TT: Can you give us some examples of developers using ThingSpace?
MB: Since the launch, we now have over 5,000 developers that have registered on the ThingSpace platform. They're at different stages including leveraging the APIs for network access, device management, creating alerts for devices and working in the developer space doing different types of projects. We give them access to the network, and we give them free data consumption for a period of time. They are very active.
One of the ones I saw was a developer who's working with multi-dwelling unit building managers. He's building things like portals for their residences so that customers can go online and see the availability of equipment that may be in the exercise rooms, or washers and dryers that are available throughout the building, or request services on the portal. That piece on the portal is very simple, but what they've actually done is they've connected things like treadmills, exercise equipment and other equipment to the network. These are very simple types of applications.
We are also seeing people who are accessing the network. They're building APIs and writing applications to access very large databases of photographs, and then running these through analytic engines to leverage the geolocation information associated with the photo. They're trying to make some determinations in terms of the conditions of foliage in those locations or other types of analytics tied to that. These are very simple use cases, and that's what we expected to see. It is progress. I think complexity is beginning to be reduced, but it's going to be a long journey.
TT: What are some of the challenges for the different use cases including agriculture, healthcare, sustainability and smart cities? How they are being solved?
MB: Healthcare is a prime example of how fragmentation really works against technology. If you think about healthcare, it's one of the most fragmented ecosystems. You have patients, providers and insurers. The providers are a mix of hospitals and physicians, and then you have all of the insurance companies.
Each of those measures success in different ways. You think about the patient, what they're most interested in is getting healthy and not going to the hospital. What the hospital is most interested in is the margins that they're creating within the hospital. In order for hospitals to make money, they need to get you in the hospitals. If you look at the physician, he's looking at things like cash flow and keeping you out of the hospital as much as possible and trying to keep you healthy. He's even looking at how the patients can improve outcomes through wellness programs.
Then if you look at insurance companies, they want to keep you out of the hospital also. I'm not saying they don't want you to go if you need to. But there's that real push and pull in terms of home-based care, aging at home and being able to give you tools and processes so that you can manage chronic diseases if you have them without going to the emergency room.
We've all heard the stories about people who've gone to the emergency room 200 times in year because of chronic diseases where they could easily be monitoring things like fluid gain and weight gain for different types of conditions at home. That offers challenges. It's a financial challenge. From a technology standpoint, we have to be careful with the HIPAA compliance; that's a very real issue for us. We have a HIPAA compliant cloud, but everything you're doing is subject to some level of FDA approval.
TT: Sticking with healthcare, what are some of the IoT use cases?
MB: We launched a product called "Track and Trace." This is a product that is part of the compliance of the Drug Safety Act of 2013, which requires all pharmaceutical companies to begin tracking their drug shipments down to the unit level from the point of manufacturing to the distributor. In 2018 it will be to the wholesale level and, then in 2020, down to the unit level at the actual pharmacy dispensary point, so basically the drug store.
That leverages our network assets, asset tracking and geolocation through the IoT chain. That's a great way for us to help take cost and inefficiency out of the healthcare industry without getting involved in chronic disease management, which is a longer-term aspiration. It also helps us do things like maintain the integrity of the drugs through the right type of monitoring in the IoT chain. We can start eating away at this $75 billion per year counterfeit drug problem that's out there today.
TT: In this instance you're talking about healthcare having sustainability?
MB: Yes, healthcare has its sustainability. I have to say I'm very bullish on solutions around sustainability. When we first started talking about sustainability in the 60s, 70s, it was highly aspirational. In the 80s and 90s there were some low-level efforts. I think with where we are today sustainability is almost always top of mind.
Sustainability is top of mind relative to things like congestion management, which directly is related to air quality. In our ag tech business, sustainability is directly related to things like how are we managing the aquifer? What are the issues we're tying to solve with nitrates into our water supply? How do we really use irrigation most effectively to improve yield? What are we going to do about this longer-term problem, which is the population doubling by 2050?
TT: You're speaking about how IoT can solve society's issues on a grand scale?
MB:Yes, I think that is a great example of how IoT can drive social innovation. It fits with my overarching approach to IoT, which is that it's not about the technology. What we have to do is deliver solutions, and Verizon has to use its scale to improve peoples' lives. It may sound a little altruistic, but I do fundamentally believe that we have that responsibility as a big, huge company with the access to the resources that we have. We have to solve big problems. Big problems have to be associated with social innovation.
— Mike Robuck, editor, Telco Transformation