It has become increasingly obvious that in practice, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be simplified into three generic applications – location tracking, event monitoring and condition monitoring. The rest is about applications to get data into the system, and to respond appropriately and securely to changes. What is less clear is telcos’ role in the emerging IoT ecosystem.
This was highlighted at Bosch Connected World 2018, a two-day conference and invited exhibition in Berlin, which attracted 4 000 visitors, ten times more than at the maiden event in 2014.
Bosch: A Prime Enabler
As one of the world’s leading makers of electrical and electronic components and finished goods, Bosch is both a consumer and a producer of IoT artefacts. It has some 270 factories, making the firm its own best guinea pig for Industry 4.0 factory automation experiments – a prime enabler and a leading source of knowledge about what works and what does not.
According to Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner, every product the company ships will be capable of connecting to a network by 2020. Some 60% of its products now support Internet Protocol (IP), up from 10% last year. In 2018, it will ship some 38 million IP-enabled products (up from 27 million last year) which includes finished goods.
Mikey, a voice-operated Bosch home automation platform, similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, will allow home owners to interact with their kitchen appliances. Mikey can check the refrigerator’s inventory, recommend suitable recipes based on the content, and pre-heat the oven for just-in-time cooking.
Bosch will be co-developing products with customers which could result in components such as sensors and lightweight combined electric gearbox-axles integrated into products. Planned for launch in the early 2020s is Daimler’s new S Class Mercedes Benz which will be enabled to park itself (after automatically finding a suitable spot in the parking garage), as well as their new robot taxi. The Deutsche Post – DHL electric self-driving mail wagon is closer to launch and will free postal delivery staff from having to carry the 115kg payload.
A constant refrain from every speaker at the conference was that a concerted effort will be required for the IoT to be a success. Like many large firms, Bosch bought its way into the IoT by acquiring smaller firms, and now partners with and supports a host of nimble software-based start-ups to develop and deliver solutions. This partnership model is the only viable way of dealing economically with the complexity of tracking assets, watching them, and getting them to respond appropriately.
Clearly, nothing will happen without connectivity, so networking is the central, crucial, enabling infrastructure for the IoT. But Bosch’s strategic pillars are sensors, software and services. Bandwidth is a commodity to be bought from the lowest priced supplier who can deliver the speed and resilience required by the application.
Bosch believes most machine-to-machine communications will be local and limited to the machine, production line, home or factory automation system of which it is a part. Relatively little data needs to break out into the Internet or the public network. For example, most on-board electronics will aim to keep passengers, cargo and vehicles safe in transit. Low latency is a non-negotiable. At the outset, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (street) communications are likely to use Lidar rather than 5G. And edge computing (with edge data centres) will reduce the amount of traffic transmitted over the access and core networks.
There are some emerging applications that require massive connectivity and bandwidth for which telcos may be uniquely suited. One such example is a city or regional Intelligent Integrated Intermodal Transport System. Passenger and goods needs are sensed, data is fed into a centralised processing systems that control the allocation of vehicles, timing of journeys and information is communicated back to the users. Notwithstanding, advances in decentralised computing and artificial intelligence-based self-organising systems may limit core network traffic.
Inevitably, industry standards for applications and vertical markets will precipitate out of the present alphabet soup of initiatives. This presents an opportunity for the telcos to play at the scale to which they are accustomed.
Nevertheless, customers are looking for someone to take responsibility for connectivity in every IoT-based system. Telcos can reorganise to service the granularity required for individual systems, or partner with firms that are prepared to get their hands dirty assembling and managing the (mostly) customised applications. Offering customers that “one throat to choke” may be risky, but it might also be telcos’ best chance of becoming essential members of the emerging IoT ecosystems.