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Asserting a role in M2M - what's an operator's place?

It’s clear that momentum is growing in the M2M and IoT market. While we remain a long way from the dramatic numbers some have forecast, we can all recognise that M2M and IoT applications have gone mainstream and are beginning to impact our lives. But with uncertainties still surrounding the value of such services, the role of the operator remains uncertain. Are operators going to drive the market place or do they have a relatively limited place in the value chain?

At this year’s Service Delivery and Innovation Summit in London, we attempted to answer some of these questions, based on our experience of a specific vertical within M2M markets that has attracted considerable attention: eHealth.


There are many thousands of M2M services and a huge array of potential applications that can be enabled. Essentially, anything that can be monitored or anything that can, actually or potentially generate data and be controlled from another location can be connected to form an M2M service. For each such service, there are both common and unique requirements.

Now, if you are an operator, common requirements are probably not all that interesting – they are suggestive of low value services and commoditised capabilities. But unique requirements are rather more interesting, as these suggest that some tuning needs to take place in order to ensure that the service is delivered successfully.

It is these services that demand more of an active role from operators. Variable requirements, particularly where data can:

  • Have different packet sizes, depending on media
  • Have different levels of priority that change according to circumstances, events or alarms
  • Need to be forwarded to different monitoring systems and control centres, according to events

Of course, the list is not exhaustive, but the point is that for certain applications, dynamic elements need to be considered which create the need for active and dynamic service delivery and assurance systems – which operators with control of network assets are able to manage, unlike pure OTT providers. One example is eHealth monitoring. A system that is set up to monitor heart rate in a patient must be able to do more than simply forward data to a monitoring system. If there is a change in the observed rate beyond a stipulated threshold, then the priority with which such data is sent to relevant observation systems will change.

While this suggests that operators can play a major role in the orchestration, delivery and management of data from more critical M2M services, it still doesn’t imply that they should take the lead. However, work undertaken by our friends at ISPM in eHealth trial projects shows that operators will be key stakeholders in the necessary ecosystem. But the leadership will probably stem from specialists in the provision of the applications themselves.

That is, there will likely be consortiums of key stakeholders, driven by the needs of the application. Thus, in critical eHealth applications, for example, the operator is required to ensure that the conditions for meeting dynamic and variable data transmission, forwarding and delivery, with variable priorities, are met. An applications that sends alerts to people to tell them that the milk in their fridge has passed its sell-by date is, while useful to some, not particularly interesting to operators. But critical or highly variable and sensitive applications are.

In this context, operators need to play a key supporting role to innovators that develop such applications. They need to be able to deliver the variable orchestration, assurance and transport capabilities that will enable them to flourish, but they will not necessarily be the lead actor. Operators will sometimes take the lead; at other times, they have a minor role to play. But there are many, many potential applications which will depend on the ability of operators to provide differential service capabilities to other stakeholders – in other words, in the M2M world, operators are absolutely essential to ensuring the performance of certain services, but they must work with other stakeholders as part of consortia to ensure their success.