From dumb data pipes to big data business: why operators must get smart

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When’s an operator not an operator? When it’s a powerful data vendor.

To date, only a limited number of operators have grasped this message, and instead have remained in ‘dumb data pipe’ territory. However, this looks set to change, as service providers find themselves under mounting pressure to create new revenue streams, both to justify investment in 5G technology, and to compensate for the diminishing returns from traditional services.

As a result, we’re set to see a growing number of operators wake up to the potential of their biggest asset: rich, diverse data.

Mining for gold

Connectivity no longer underpins mobile alone – and hasn’t for a while. Instead, it is now enabling IoT innovation in sectors ranging from healthcare and education, to maritime and automotive. Not only does this present a real opportunity for operators to provide connectivity to a host of new verticals, it also gives them access to a wealth of data from the millions of sensor, device and M2M connections on their networks.

When harnessed correctly, this data can be turned into gold, and used to drive efficiencies, optimise processes and unlock new revenue streams. The diverse range of insights which can be ascertained by collating, analysing and visualising data are huge, meaning that the potential base of enterprise customers operators can tap into is similarly broad. Mining insights from hyper-scale data sets will help reduce energy consumption, drive automotive vehicles, enable remote surgery, guide ships into port, reduce crime on our streets, improve safety on our roads, and make our cities happier, healthier places to live.

However, until recently, operators have been unable to handle the huge volume of data our connected world is generating, with a reported five quintillion bytes of data being produced every day. Neither have they been able to combine their own IoT information with the geospatial insights required to really create value from data.  Fortunately, technology is evolving to enable operators to manage and enrich their vast data sets, which is where GeoSpock comes in.

The data opportunity

The migration to 5G opens up a wealth of opportunities for mobile operators. Augmented with their existing 4G (LTE) network assets, they will have the scope to support a broad range of new, and existing, use cases. Up until now, the connectivity offered by mobile operators has predominantly been limited to supporting person-to-person communications – voice and mobile broadband services. Many operators have diversified by supporting machine-to-machine communications for utilities providers (connecting smart meters for example) and for smart city deployments to support local government initiatives.

IoT hardware and software is becoming more and more sophisticated by the day, and soon our towns and cities will be awash with connected devices and sensors configured to support city planning, waste management, utilities, transport and tourism. Local networks will provide connectivity in some instances, but for IoT services to be a success they will require the ubiquitous coverage and connectivity that mobile operators can provide.

These smart IoT devices and sensors, or endpoints, will become conduits for huge swathes of data that operators will be able to collect and process. The ability to mine, analyse and enrich all of this mission critical information will finally allow operators to make the leap from being a provider of wireless connectivity, to being a data enabler.

At GeoSpock, we work with operators to help them on this journey – we can collate trillions of data points from the network, from disparate data sets, and enrich them with hyper-efficient data analytics and visualisation of spatial and temporal data. Through this approach, operators can unlock a whole host of valuable data insights, which they can monetise through sharing with third parties.

The connected automotive sector, for instance, is set to be highly lucrative, provided stakeholders overcome legacy database problems, and adopt the tools needed to process and analyse real-time date – from cameras, onboard sensors, and insights into vehicles’ external environments. This data needs to be assessed and used by insurance companies, connected fleet managers, the car’s on-board operating system, traffic management planners, and a host of others.  And operators, by opening up an application layer and allowing third parties to tap into the data, can help join the dots and spark growth in vertical sectors.

Today, 5G features heavily in the roadmaps of most operators. But, with huge investment and resources required, just how they’re planning to get there is less clear. Acting as pipes for data-hungry consumers won’t get them very far, and won’t do much to further the kind of use cases 5G promises. Instead, they must look to the high-value enterprise market, collaborate with smart city stakeholders, and grow into powerful data vendors.

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