With many moving pieces guided by numerous partnerships and a well-defined sharing-economy doctrine, there's more than meets the eye to AT&T's Internet of Things (IoT) platform strategy.
For all the attention any one AT&T DevOps platform for the Internet of Things may get at any one time, they must all be viewed as a whole, according to one of Ma Bell 2.0's top IoT executives.
Platforms -- several of them -- play a central role in the approach AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) (NYSE: T) takes to enterprise IoT. In an interview with Telco Transformation, Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of strategy and product management for AT&T IoT Solutions, explained that AT&T's "platform layer" lies smackdab in the middle of the telco's triple-layered "IoT solutions stack" -- with connectivity forming the foundation layer, and a third layer of applications and analytics atop it all.
And AT&T's platform philosophy is highly particular.
"Essentially, what we call platforms are platforms where we provide -- either through APIs or through portals or other means -- for developers, systems integrators and enterprise developers the ability to consume data, to collect data and to connect to their IT systems," said Khan. "What that means is you want to make it faster, easier, cheaper for them to build IoT applications, and that's where we have deployed a series of products -- M2X is one of them -- to help developers."
Indeed, M2X has earned a good deal of attention. Now a few years old, with origins in machine-to-machine communications, M2X went into full commercial release for IoT DevOps close to 20 months ago -- helping AT&T court IoT developers at 2015's Consumer Electronics Show. A year later, AT&T announced the release of M2X Context, an M2X feature that lets users set rules to ensure that they only get only data relevant to them -- thereby reducing data-flow inefficiencies while enhancing IoT data privacy.
Concurrently, AT&T announced that it had integrated M2X with two services from Salesforce.com Inc. , Service Cloud and the Heroku Elements DevOps marketplace -- complementing AT&T's cloud-provider partnership strategy. (See Cloud-Agnostic Platforms Fuel AT&T's IoT DevOps.)
Still, M2X is far from the be-all and end-all of AT&T's IoT strategy. Khan actively deemphasized M2X's inherent importance.
"M2X is only a piece if you're talking about platforms," responded Khan in lieu of answering a question about how many users M2X currently enjoys and across how many countries. Khan did say that AT&T announced 15,000 developers in July aggregated across all of its platforms, "because in itself it doesn't represent what we're trying to do here [except in the context of] the adjacent initiatives and platforms."
Both M2X and the "adjacent" M2M and IoT-development platform, AT&T's Control Center, have been around for a couple of years now -- much longer than what is perhaps their closest competitive analog: ThingSpace, an IoT development platform commercially released a year ago by fellow US telecom giant Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). (See: Verizon's IoT Marketplace: One-Stop Shop for DevOps.)
A much newer IoT development platform from AT&T, however, appears prepped to steal some thunder. At the start of this year, AT&T announced the commercial availability of this platform: Flow Designer.
So what's the difference between AT&T's three primary IoT platforms?
"M2X is more of a connectivity device management and time-series data store, whereas Flow Designer... provides the ability for developers, in a GUI interface, to build decisions on what to do with data," said Khan. "If data is coming in a streaming form and you want to take action -- like 'If temperature gets above this, go send an SMS or shut down the machine,' whatever those rules are -- you can easily implement it in Flow."
AT&T's Control Center, related Khan, is similar to Flow Designer in this regard -- allowing rules-based management specific to SIMs and connectivity. The latter, however, brings with it an added benefit: it can support local processors at the edge of a network -- allowing customers to selectively process near real-time data where the urgency and value propositions are high.
As if three IoT DevOps platforms weren't enough, AT&T also offers vertical-customized IoT platforms. One example is AT&T Drive, which is specific to the vehicular IoT market (e.g., connected cars, fleet solutions and transportation, etc.), and is AT&T's top IoT priority. (See How AT&T Prioritizes IoT Verticals.)
And there will be more to come. Khan said that future announcements would be about AT&T's newest vertical solutions and customers for IoT, as well as -- of course -- the company's IoT platforms.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation