AT&T has faced a long row to hoe in regards to establishing its IoT connectivity approach. Now, after much exploring and planning, big things seem to be ahead for AT&T, its IoT developers and its IoT customers.
For AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) (NYSE: T), there are several facets to a comprehensive, efficacious IoT strategy. Comprised of three layers, AT&T's IoT Solutions Stack is supported by a foundation of connectivity at its first layer, which supports a platform layer -- which, in turn, supports a layer of solutions. Developers and customers must be courted and supported at each level, according to Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of strategy and product management for AT&T IoT Solutions, but connectivity still lies at the base of it all. (See Start Me Up: AT&T's Khan Details New IoT Developers' Kit.)
Telco Transformation had a one-on-one conversation with Khan recently about AT&T's efforts to build and maintain a strong IoT connectivity core. The interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.
Telco Transformation: You've announced satellite connectivity for IoT. Can you tell me about that?
Mobeen Khan: Let's say you're an oil and gas customer and you are deploying oil pipeline management or rig data collection solutions. There'll be some areas that are near shore or close to suburban areas where you will have connectivity from a cellular perspective, but there'll be other areas where you will be offshore or in very remote areas where you do not have adequate cellular connectivity. So you could have a satellite option to connect, and you'll have an integrated device with a cellular satellite -- one could be the backup for the other -- deployed, for data collection, and you'll have a single platform interface that allows you to manage your service and to collect data from that device.
From the customer perspective, they come to AT&T and they have multiple connection options, but they have a single management interface for their connectivity, and they have APIs and everything to manage that connectivity for them. We are now moving towards WiFi and other connectivity options because our customers are looking at IoT connectivity, and beyond just the cellular grid.
TT: In terms of these types of solutions, do you have any partnerships that you're working on? What can you tell me about them?
MK: We announced a partnership with a company called Globecomm for satellite. Globecomm is a provider of multiple integrated satellite solutions with platform capabilities that we are integrating into our platforms to provide a single pane of glass solution to enterprise customers. So that's on the satellite side.
And then we have roaming agreements around the world for over 200 countries, where global SIMs can glom onto networks outside of the US and Mexico, so we provide an integrated experience there as well.
For WiFi, typically those solutions are enterprise-owned or operator-built. That's a service that we offer from our own WiFi solution team's perspective.
TT: Are you leveraging or looking at so-called "Carrier WiFi," where existing WiFi sensors or hotspots get co-opted for IoT connectivity?
MK: I think that today, especially in the enterprise world, you tend to have more owned networks or managed networks rather than publicly available networks for a couple of reasons. One is that the enterprise customers, like vending machine operators or other similar businesses, want more control over the capacity, the configuration, the security -- all of those components.
In some cases, public WiFi may make sense as well, especially if you can take care of the things that I was talking about. So, for example, if you were deploying in a hospital and the hospital already has its own secure WiFi network and it provides you access to it to connect the hospital machines to pass on IoT data, then that makes sense, and you leverage the infrastructure that exists there.
TT: What are the biggest challenges, as you see them, for IoT connectivity?
MK: It is still early in the IoT space, and technologies, processes and systems around an IoT implementation are still complex. Customers should be able to get assistance from the right solution integrators. Additionally, implementations of IoT solutions need to be accompanied by changes in the way business runs its operations and, in some cases, new products and offers can be created.
TT: What can you tell me in terms of the one-year plan, the five-year plan and beyond for IoT for AT&T?
MK: IoT is one of the strategic growth areas for AT&T. We're making large investments in connectivity and Cat-M and LTE evolution and even 5G that would support platforms. We also target solution areas where we are working with partners and rolling out end-to-end solutions -- a lot of investments, a lot of excitement. If you look at the last seven to eight months of our press releases, you will get an idea of the strong path that we are on.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation