Is the operator’s role in the IoT becoming a little clearer?

Image credit: Mike Mareen /

For a few years now, the debate about how and where operators fit into the IoT value chain have been rumbling on. Perhaps not surprisingly the arguments have mirrored previous arguments about the role of operators in, well, almost everything: Smart pipe? Dumb pipe? Value added player? Etc.

Two recent articles have given us pause for thought, perhaps even pause for insight.

One – which we’ve mentioned before – covers a presentation by Marc Andreesen apostle Ben Evans about ‘riding the S curve’ as the way that innovation thrives on the back of new platforms. He talked about the PC, the laptop and the smartphone. When each was in its infancy, he points out, the examples touted by operators were breakthroughs, but hardly ‘Eureka!’ moments. The smartphone examples were email, weather and stock prices. What the smartphone ultimately gave us was Uber, Snapchat and Instacart.

The other article is an interview with Timotheus Hoettges, the CEO of Deutsche Telekom, which set out its stall in the IoT arena several years ago, and has invested heavily since – particularly in areas such as smart cities. Hoettges provided that insight by telling Bloomberg that DT’s ecosystem is changing into a model where the real revenue is from providing solutions: “The connectivity is just a small fraction of it.”

Whether Hoetgges is simply saying what we are all thinking, or whether DT really does have a real grasp of their opportunity in the IoT arena, he clearly sees the IoT as an S curve.

So, if we think of the IoT as a platform and an emerging S curve, presumably the examples of IoT apps being talked up now are the equivalent of the ’email, weather and stocks’ that everyone was enthusing over at the beginning of the smartphone curve. Which means we are in for some exciting and innovative months and years as the Ubers, Snapchats and Instacarts of the IoT era begin to emerge.

This doesn’t have to happen at the expense of operators – an increasingly common refrain (at least at trade shows) is that operators prefer an ecosystem approach where partners with the right vertical expertise collaborate with them to develop innovative new services for their IoT platform.

Mind you some think that they have already produced ‘the next big thing’ based on the new IoT S curve. Sadly, however, a lot of them fall into the IoST category (the ‘S’ stands for ‘Silly’).

Once again, operators must (please) look beyond connectivity as ‘what we do’, and realize that they are an integral part of the platform that is the IoT, and as such are part of the bunch of entities and companies that will enable the innovation. And therefore they should be rewarded for it. To simply treat IoT as a connectivity play is to devalue the true role operators can play in this space.

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