Cloud-based IoT is crucial for the smart city ecosystem

IoT smart city
Image credit: Valery Brozhinsky / Shutterstock.com

Operators must migrate their IoT platform to the cloud to provide smart city ecosystem partners with control over their own M2M deployments.

Asia-Pacific is showing the rest of the world how smart cities must evolve, and it comes as little surprise when we are home to half of the world’s megacities [PDF] while accounting for the largest share of IoT expenditure, globally. It is now well recognized that the responsibility for the success of smart cities does not lie solely with government – cities can achieve true digital transformation to improve environmental, financial, and social aspects of urban life only if enterprises, operators and governments operate with transparency and work seamlessly together.

Mobile networks are the backbone to any successful smart city, as they are with any local or global IoT deployment. Embedded SIMs (eSIMs) will enable devices to be placed and repositioned as needed while communicating seamlessly over mobile networks, making them easy to install and manage. Technologies like NB-IoT will extend the battery life of connected devices significantly, and eSIM will make connectivity easy to embed in devices – mobile operators’ IoT platforms must be set up to manage these.

However, operator business models and platforms are not optimized for IoT deployments. Operator networks and systems are set up and managed with a B2C mentality. Under this model, the operator has full control over all aspects of the connection throughout its lifecycle. They set the parameters for every piece of the puzzle from provisioning, changing or updating parameters, troubleshooting, analytics and billing. This is a familiar concept for most of us, as we call contact centers for billing assistance, or go into stores to change our monthly packages, troubleshoot issues and so on.

This system simply doesn’t work for IoT.

Operators of connected services in a smart city need control and autonomy in managing, troubleshooting and controlling their devices. By ‘operators’, I don’t mean just telcos – it could include, for example, the transport department managing traffic lights, or the fire services department managing fleets of fire engines. Having to go back to an operator for day-to-day management and control would be impractical and unmanageable for them, given that there would be hundreds of thousands of devices to manage.

So, operators need to adapt their business models to provide smart city ecosystem partners with control over their own M2M deployments, allowing them to behave almost like virtual network operators (VNOs) themselves. The only way to do this is by migrating the M2M platform to the cloud, providing the enterprise or department with the ability to fully manage all connected devices and services. Another advantage of cloud-based solution deployments is lower capex and minimal deployment time.

If operators can change their business platforms to provide high levels of autonomy and control to other partners in the smart city ecosystem, with flexibility and customization capabilities to support all M2M/IoT use cases, this will greatly support and augment the rollout of smart city services.

We have the technology to make this collaboration seamless. Virtualized cloud-based platforms can scale up to manage any number of IoT devices and provide sophisticated functionalities. For example, different levels of control over the IoT platform can be provided to different categories of user such as the department of health, hospitals, and doctors. With this type of flexibility built in, deployment and upscaling become easy. Open source technology would limit proprietary lock-in and enable platform evolution. M2M in the cloud offers the benefits of little upfront cost, easy upgrades and resources for the whole ecosystem to work together.

Taking a step back, I see many of the innovations that are changing cities into smart cities, such as ride-hailing and smart homes, are revenue-generating concepts introduced by private-sector companies. Companies operating effectively in this space have identified public problems and developed solutions, many of which can be introduced quickly and cost-effectively. It’s this synchronization between all of the players in the ecosystem that will drive innovation and propel progress.

We have all heard that collaboration is needed to achieve inter-sector connectivity that ensures that Asia’s smart city dreams become reality sooner rather than later – this collaboration needs to include the platform, the cloud and the mindset.

Written by Malcolm Chan, Managing Director Asia-Pacific, BICS

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