Ivo Rook, SVP of IoT for Sprint, warned interoperability issues could hinder growth in the US IoT market, even as the operator begins to scale its fledgling LTE-M business.
The executive, who worked in Europe as Vodafone’s IoT chief before joining Sprint in December 2017, told Mobile World Live the size of the US market makes it attractive for IoT implementations. But he flagged the country’s use of numerous frequency bands and a lack of standardisation within those bands as a “massive inhibitor” to rapid growth in the segment.
Rook (pictured, right) explained interoperability issues which made it difficult for US users to take their device from one network to another in the early days of smartphones are amplified in the IoT arena.
“It is actually a big obstacle to growth. Why? Not so much for the operators, but for all these companies who utilise these devices…Any smartphone has 10, 20, 30 antenna frequencies in it. It’s easy because it’s a larger device. An IoT device, for it to be economically viable, can have a maximum of five, which means this whole problem of these frequencies is ten times more relevant in the IoT world than it was back then with devices for consumers.”
But Rook said these issues aren’t stopping Sprint from pressing full steam ahead with a plan to scale its IoT business.
In November 2018, the operator launched a new LTE-M network alongside its dedicated Curiosity IoT core. Rook said that network, which was built as part of Sprint’s broader infrastructure expansion, now covers 90 per cent of the country, with the last 10 per cent expected to be covered in February.
He added the operator built the network so it could easily switch on NB-IoT capabilities if needed, but said so far it has not seen a major demand for NB-IoT among clients.
Since the LTE-M launch, Rook said Sprint has inked more than $100 million in IoT deals for use cases which fall into three main categories: those which use artificial intelligence; autonomous; and robotics.
Sprint has already seen “enormous traction” in the transportation segment, but Rook noted the operator is also planning to invest more in autonomous and sensor technology for agriculture as well as tools to digitise factory operations.
Rollout to revenue
Rather than relying on direct connectivity agreements alone to generate revenue, Rook said Sprint is also aiming to make money by selling software-based services, such as a forthcoming application which will offer data filtering.
Additionally, the operator is looking to benefit from third-party attachments, through which Sprint collects a cut of fees collected for services which use its network and Curiosity platform. Such a strategy, Rook said, “triples the addressable market”.
Though he didn’t break out revenue figures, Rook noted the operator has thus far seen higher-than-expected growth in third-party attachments, and growth as expected for direct connections. However he said it’s too early to tell the trajectory of growth for Sprint-created IoT services.
Sprint is expected to report earnings for Q4 2018 on 31 January.Subscribe to our daily newsletter