10 ways to make Dubai a Smart(er) City

images

There was a lot of excitement  in Dubai at GITEX last week after His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum outlined his plans to make Dubai a SmartCity.  The Dubai ruler, Vice President and Prime minister of UAE has started a project that aims at improving citizen’s quality of life, develop the economy, but also aims at putting Dubai on the global map when it comes to innovation and technology leadership.

Although no details  about the scope of the project are known, it is clear that it is an attempt to bring together both public institutions as well as private sector companies in order to speed-up the move of Dubai and the UAE into the digital world. The higher committee that has been formed to run this initiative includes both public and private sector officials, with telecom operators Etisalat and du represented among others. It is not clear how much money will be poured into this initiative, but looking at the stakeholders involved we are talking serious business .  There are today three main themes defined under the umbrella project: Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart tourism.

  • Smart Life focuses on education, health, transport, telecommunication and public utilities….
  • Smart Economy concerns the development of technology companies and jobs as well as port, airport and other business services.
  • Smart Tourism aims to offer visitors efficient visa, aviation, hotels, restaurants and other services.

For this initiative to succeed though it is important  to learn from what is being done elsewhere in the world but also consider learnings from projects like Masdar in Abu Dhabi. The green city project had to revise many of its initial high ambitions, to become the first carbon neutral city, mainly due to cost of implementation. Still I believe it is the right time and the right place to start such an ambitious project.  Having lived in UAE for 6 years now I start getting my own ideas on how such a project could shape up and wanted to share some humble ideas around the main themes.

Smart Life

  1. I believe that traffic management is still one of the areas that has most potential for development. There are so many traffic jams, accidents and frustration spent on the roads that this could be a quick win for the city. Being it support applications to find parking spaces, information about location of infrastructure, real-time traffic information. I think this is one of the smart services citizen would really like to see.  Many cities around the world have started to even open this data to the public in order to stimulate innovation, I really hope Dubai and UAE can do thee same. Less accidents, Less CO2 emissions and less stress on the road are main benefits.  Check my previous article on opendata to read more about this topic.
  2. In order to improve quality of life, I think another important investment area should be around sustainability and greener lifestyle. Here also I am a proponent of environment opendata to stimulate innovation. Dubai and UAE would certainly benefit from measuring and exposing data like air quality, pollution levels as well as water and energy consumption.  Air Conditioning systems are in bad shape in many places here and lack of monitoring some of these environmental parameters could lead to chronic diseases.  To develop a Smart life means being more respectful about the environment, but to create awareness and change behaviors you need more visibility first.
  3. Healthcare is another area for investment. Now, while the quality of doctors here can be high, the administrative part is a nightmare, paperwork left and right, queueing here and there.  Now, this is probably not a quick win, but the move the electronic medical records is probably a big step to take as well as an introduction of remote patient monitoring solutions to deal with chronic diseases.
  4. Education is a tricky area, but I believe SmartCities will be cities capable of harnessing the right mix of local education programs combined with specialized Remote teaching capabilities from world class universities.  With technology the world becomes a smaller place, and that means that we can get access to educational resources that were out of reach before.  Video-conferencing, collaborative means that you can have very similar interactions with the teachers as when you are in the classroom. Another aspect of this development is that education could become a lot cheaper than it is today and hence become more affordable.

Smart Economy

  1. The smart economy is certainly about securing the infrastructure is continuously built-out to facilitate communications, logistics and production. Here I think tele-presence solutions provide an opportunity to facilitate Business-to-Business , Business-to-Government and Government-to-Citizen interactions. Less time spend on the road, waiting or idling will have a positive impact on productivity.
  2. Another aspect of the smart economy it is also about creating leaner administration and moving more jobs to the private sector. More jobs in private sector means also improving support systems for startups.  As I wrote in one of my previous articles cost of living and infrastructure is still to high to want to start a technology business here in UAE.  Maybe government needs to revise visa policies, provide housing support and finance startups to attract technology entrepreneurs.

Smart Tourism

  1. Digital signage could be further developed to promote events and provide tourist information services in strategic places.
  2. Voucher systems like the Dubai Entertainer or other coupon systems, need to be revamped so that you can get coupons in digital format. Just take the example of tourist visiting Dubai, likelyhood of him/her buying the entertainer at 100USD if he stays a few days is very low. Going digital gives you more flexbility in the offering.
  3. Automatic translation services could be used to provide relevant information to tourists.
  4. Now while many search engines are available to check flight availability, it is much more difficult to know restaurant availability. I would really love an application that can search for available restaurants that serve certain types of food.  Again if this type of data is made open and maybe brokered through the operator the applications will be developed.

Do you like some of these ideas? What are you thoughts and what would you like to see?

M2M and a Blue Ocean of possibilities…for Startups

There is now little doubt that we are about to see an exponential growth in connected devices. This will lead to what is referred to as the Networked Society or the Internet of Things.  Ericsson predicts that there will be up to 50 Billion connected devices by 2020.  What is more difficult to predict is who will shape this industry as the value chain is fairly complex and the eco-system is fragmented.

Slide14

Operators are today providing connectivity services and want to move up the value chain, either by providing service enablement functionality or industry targeted business solutions. Consulting companies on the other hand might try to keep it a complex system integration business, while specialized service providers focus on providing value in specific verticals.

I believe now is the right time to disrupt this M2M/IoT industry.

Take an OTT approach and put all your efforts on innovation and value creation. Why? Because the cost of developing, integrating and deploying new solutions goes down close to zero. Entry barriers for new companies are vanishing really quickly. Here are four trends that support this thought.

1 – Super Affordable Sensors, Device Gateways and Controllers

Today almost anybody can start prototyping to create connected devices at low cost. Arduino, for instance, is an open-source electronic prototyping platform allowing to create interactive electronic objects. With arduino you can create and control simple objects, sensors, all of this for a handful of dollars. For less than a hundred dollars you can even connect to the internet over a mobile network.

Similarly, for more complex control, it can be enhanced with cheap processing power, the Rasberry Pi is a 25 USD, credit-card sized computer that plugs into any HDMI TV and USB keyboard/mouse. It includes an ARM chip that is powerful enough to run Linux and a full Java Virtual Machine. The possibilities are endless.

Standardization is also moving to make things easier. ZigBee protcol and Zigbee alliance is an example of such a simplification initiative. ZigBee is an open global wireless standard to address the needs of low-cost, low-power wireless M2M networks. ZigBee applications include wireless light switches, electrical meters with in-home-displays, traffic management systems, and other consumer and industrial equipment that requires short-range wireless transfer of data at relatively low rates.

Technology is also evolving and supporting move innovations. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) appears to have solved some of the energy consumption problems of sensors since these sensors can last 1-3 years with the same battery. iBeacon, a technology derivative of BLE, is now also getting widely adopted. Some companies like Estimote, WiMoto or Blesh have quickly understood the potential and are provide sensors and toolkits that allow you to collect more data and create value.

There is a big shift in the industry that is happening as we speak and you only have check the number of Crowfunded projects to see how big this trend is becoming.   Now is the time for the emerging maker generation.

2 – Opensource M2M Plaforms / Cloud Platforms

Appearance of opensource M2M platforms like DeviceHive provide now also the communication layer needed to control multiple devices and sensors that can be used to develop home automation solutions, energy management solutions and much more. These M2M platforms provide also the basic functionality to provision, manage and control multiple devices that are part of an M2M enterprise solution. The platforms also support simple API’s based on HTML to address a large developer community.

Deploying an opensource M2M platform on a public cloud provides a very attractive go-to-market approach for anybody that wants to become an M2M specialized service provider. Not much is required to get started.

With the cost drastically decreased, more innovation will come from the end-users within each vertical. I could easily imagine larger communities like cities develop their own M2M solutions and manage it in order to optimize urban development and public spending. Why not?

3 – Application Design through Mashup and Integrated Communication

With the development provided by HTML5 we can now also embed real time communication capabilities in web pages. This allows for rapid UI design, clever mash-up and a complete new type of interactivity. WebRTC is part of these new communication capabilities that can easily be embedded in Web Pages. Whether it is voice, video, messaging or document exchange it can now all very easily  be provided from a web page.

I have now doubt that these technologies could easily be used to develop home automation or energy management solutions that can be controlled from a tablet or mobile device from anywhere in the world.

4 – Low risk and quick market feedback through crowd-funding 

I believe the Internet of things provides huge opportunities for innovation, substantial growth opportunities and an entry barrier which is fairly small. Beside the availability of open source technology to reduce production cost, operational costs can be reduced thanks to cloud. And why not use social media to build-up your M2M tiger team and for the funding try to expose your project to crowfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

In Kickstarter project creators get funded by the community. They set a funding goal and deadline. If people like a project, they can pledge money to make it happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing — projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money. Kickstarter is very effective in creating momentum and rallying people around an idea. Backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not to profit financially. Instead, project creators offer rewards to thank backers for their support. Kickstarter takes a marginal 5% fee to the funds collected.

What industries to target?

I believe that with the current technology development, fragmentation of current M2M value chains the opportunity is there for anybody to take a strong position with niche industry solutions. The entry barriers are pretty low.

For the consumer market, applications like home automation and energy management are probably good places to start, but I think there might be huge possibilities as well in sectors like e-health and quantified self.

Enterprise segment might be difficult to enter for startups, since it is ofte about optimizing current business processes and using M2M to reduce costs. From telemetry, to POS, Securtiy or Vending machines the industry specific requirements will usually make it more or less easy to enter that particular market.

When it comes to industries to target there are plenty and the shipment of connected devices per segment is going to surpass 100 Million per year in a couple of years only, according to an ABI research report, so plenty of choice.

solution_overview_c22-688248-02

 

A call to innovate and disrupt the M2M/IoT space

I believe now is the right time to disrupt this M2M/IoT industry: Affordable devices and sensors, reduced costs through cloud and opensource, Application design requiring less coding and finally crowdfunding allowing you to quickly validate and fund your ideas. All the conditions are right, now is the time to Make it happen.

Why Telco’s should invest in bigdata capabilities

new context

What is bigdata and what are key operator data assets?

In a nutshell bigdata is about getting actionable insights from data which is available in huge volumes, has high velocity and is often found in a big variety. These are the so called 3V’s of big data. While the volume definition is very clear, with velocity we mean data which is of value only for a short period of time, possibly a few minutes or less. The variety of the data is also a bit difficult to understand at first. Here we talk primarily about the huge amount of unstructured data which is today hardly harvested, as an example you can think of insights found in text, images and video.

Data amounts available to analyze are huge and grow exponentially. An IBM study showed that 90% of all data available in the world has been produced over the last two years only. Operators sit today on huge amounts of data themselves, but few have started to monetize that knowledge neither internally nor externally.

There is probably different ways to segment the operator’s data assets but the taxonomy I used below is simple enough so that anybody can get a feeling for the types of use-cases that could be monetized by Telco’s. This taxonomy is based on different types of contexts which provide value to the telco or to a third party.

  • Operators have today a good understanding of the situational context of their users (i.e. position information, whether I am in mall, in my car or in an movie theater),
  • they understand my behavioral context through my devices I am using (am I in a call, watching my IPTV or browsing the web and which sites)
  •  and they know about my social context (most frequent people I call, my preferences through the content I am consuming, the places I go, which social networks I belong to and of course my billing information)

Now for privacy reasons much of this data cannot be exposed without the consent of the end-user,  unless there is an opt-in close when subscribing to a service. In any case the data can most of the time be made anonymous and brokered as such.

The opportunities for Telco’s are numerous but can be seen as internal and external opportunities. Improving retention and revenues by becoming more customer centric and better managing the customer experience is an internal usage of these insights, while an external usage is to provide new services to enterprises that will help them to improve their own efficiency and decision processes. In this post I will only cover the external bigdata opportunities.

Targeting enterprises with BigData Services and strengthening cloud offerings

From a 2102 Gartner study you can see that most industries are in the process of investing or a planning to invest in Bigdata technology of the next 2 years. Rather than further increasing ICT spending and OPEX in the enterprise their is an opportunity for operators to provide cloud services and become the technology partner for bigdata.

Gartner-diagram

While telcos are probably a bit late to the market with cloud services compared to companies like Amazon, operators have still a privileged position when it comes to trust, security and service level expectations. Telco’s are still privileged partner for larger enterprises, industry verticals and government mainly because of their local presence. This is why they need to invest in this area now or necessity will take over to find alternative providers.  For Telco’s the opportunities in bigdata when part of a cloud offering, can probably count the folowing non exhaustive list.

Storage provider – Data-as-a-service

For enterprises that collect or want to collect data, they will rapidly have to consider how to store that data in a cost efficient and scalable manner. This is where telco’s data center could be used to provide elasticity and handle that demand in a cost efficiency way. Of course depending on the type of enterprise data, there are important questions to address when it comes to privacy, integrity and security of the data, but operators are probably well positioned to offer Data-as-a-Service to different industry vertical according to the enterprises expectations.

Analytics-as-a-Service Provider

The tools and processes needed to gain insights require major changes and investments in the enterprise. Now even if you have data and can store most of your data, it sill requires new tools and competences to be able to gain insights from that data. Telco’s  could play a major role in taking bigdata to the masses, especially toward the SME’s where efficiency and agility is so important. Providing business intelligence reports, visualization capabilities as well as dashboard views are few of the Basic mechanisms to put in place.

Data Enrichment and brokering – Enriched Insights provider

The data operators own has even more value if consolidated or federated with other data sources like social media, government or enterprise data. If this data can be exposed and analyzed it will provide further insights that a government, large enterprise or industry verticals will be ready to pay for.

Become a strategic partner for enterprises, industry verticals, governments and the public sector

A said earlier, operators have a privileged position when interfacing governments and regulators and should leverage that position. In order to stay competitive and sustain economic growth governments need to take faster and smarter decisions. This often means collecting and analyzing more data to improve the decisioning process. By leveraging on bigdata technology, federation and analytics, operators could find new means to address value chains for which they were today only providing connectivity and communications.

I won’t be able to cover all bigdata opportunities where telco’s could provide value, but nelow you will find a couple of examples where big data could be useful and it will show how that could help operators position themselves in new value chains.

M2M and BigData

A simple example that could be considered here is how an operator can use big data to combine multiple structured and unstructured data sources to provide additional value to vehicle fleet management solution.  Analyzing social media streams, outgoing calls or lack of movement along certain roads, can help provide real-time information that could be useful for redirecting vehicles or a whole fleet. In addition the operator can combine this services with automated communication to guide a track, bus or taxi toward the right destination in real-time. Automative industry, Health care, Telemetry and most industries using M2M sensors could benefit from bigdata and analytics to increase the value or services offered by operators.

Retail and Advertising

For advertisers and retailers targeting the right audience and the ability to prove that you can address the right audience is worth heavy dollars. The propensity to buy for a customer is heavily correlated to how much know about that person, it tastes and preferences. Operators have a lot of information about the user profile, but more could be collected through the various portals and even through packet inspection. By analyzing consumer likes on social networks, purchases on amazon or  zapping patterns on an IPTV system a lot can be learned and shared.

Urban Planning

Urban planning can certainly benefit from the insights operators have in terms of road traffic development and customer segmentation in order to improve build-out of new infrastructure, including roads, housing, schools and hospitals.

Security Services

Take the example of a mall where you have cameras monitoring everything that happens. Quickly analyzing what happens over multiple video streams to identify a theft and identify the person would require real-time processing and federation over multiple data sources. Operators could be a natural broker for this type of use-case.

… and many more industries can be addressed

Many more industries and verticals could benefit from bigdata investments, but it would be difficult top properly cover all of this in one post. If there is interest from the community I will write separate post on how big data can help Education and Healthcare, which are two topics that deserve their own analysis.

Finally, BigData as a means for Telco’s to become a community as well as a lifestyle provider?

For telco’s there is potentially more at stake. Bigdata provides opportunities for operators to become more customer centric and become more relevant in their consumer’s lives. If done right they could become this lifestyle provider they have always dreamt off becoming.  By strengthening relationships with governments and selected enterprises they could also take a more active role in the community and by that increase their relevance both for consumers and enterprises.

Can Telco’s compete in the OTT Reality?

As broadband has become ubiquitous to our lives, consumers have changed their behaviors as well as their expectations when it comes to communication needs and content availability. Today users expect to communicate using the most convenient mechanism at any point in time, where convenience could be based on price, usability or uniqueness of features offered. In addition, smart phones and the decoupling of applications from connectivity have also led to a paradigm shift where application providers can easily reach to millions or hundred of millions of users in no-time, providing a scale and a cost structure outpacing traditional telecom operators. Telco’s are today caught in the middle with existing business models to defend, large revenues at stake and often a lack of capabilities or scale to innovate at the same pace as OTT players.

Disruptions in the value chain have led to many changes and more to come. Regulation is becoming less strong (think net-neutrality), Operator portals are being replaced by android and apple application stores and users expect communication and even most of the content to be free.  Where does this leave today’s Telco’s?

Having a closer look at the last point, you might see that there is nothing like a free lunch. An OTT that offers free services has a plan to monetize these in one way or the other. The reason could be because they actually want to sell more devices, harvest the knowledge from the community or monetize from advertising, there is always a hidden or less hidden agenda.

Moving from Voice to Data-Centric Business Model

The first point to tackle for operators, when reviewing today’s value chain, is to change from a voice centric to a data centric business model. By doing this, operators can package their services in a much more integrated way and give the perception that some of the services like voice and SMS are pretty much free as part your broadband subscription. Operators like ATT, Verizon or even Telenor and Telia have moved in this direction over the last couple of years.

AT&T

Providing an integrated Communications Experience

The second point to recognize is that most users have multiple devices and use multiple services. Each service and each device that is not integrated in the operators offering provides a substantial risk to increase churn in the operator services. Here we are talking about Apps like Whatsapp or Viber, which are providing almost free messaging and free voice services to all its members. But users are not that loyal and most of them might not really care about the application if the tradeoff between price, features and usability is convenient enough. Operators start to realize this and start to provide communication services that integrate voice, video, messaging and content sharing. Beyond the services they also allow you to integrate multiple devices in that equation by providing a unique ID (your mobile ID), have parallel ringing between devices and transfer ongoing calls from device to the other. Rogers in Canada is one of the pioneers in this area, they launched a service called OneNumber which allowed them to reduce churn and even move part of their pre-paid subscribers over to postpaid subscriptions.

rogers

Partnering with the right OTT

While moving to a data centric business model and integrating more of the communication offerings will fight churn and price erosion, most operator are though still suffering from a chronic lack of innovation. Part of the strategy could be to partner with OTT’s in selected areas, so that they don’t cannibalize on the operator’s existing revenues but still add value. One example here is the Telia Spotify partnership, where the Operator, Telia and the OTT, Spotify are sharing revenues for a music streaming service that is offered as an add-on to existing Telia mobile broadband subscribers. Operator’s attempting to partner with OTT’s where value propositions overlap had less success, here I am primarily thinking about the attempts to partner with the likes of Skype, but even that might change.

Spotify

Move to Cloud infrastructure to reduce cost and improve scalability

Another way to address these challenges is to look at providing voice and other services more efficiently. The emergence of cloud solutions has lead operators to start shifting some of their services to a centrally hosted private cloud.  Operators, and furthermore large groups likes Vodafone might even start offering key communication services as a cloud offering to other operators when regulations permit. We have seen Vodafone for instance starting trialing Cloud-based Rich Communication Suite (RCS/Joyn) services with other operators.

Select right verticals and define wanted position in value chain

Last but not least all this connectivity is opening for a massive opportunity to build a truly connected society and that means expanding operators reach beyond people and building new value as part of the internet of things. The key question in the M2M value chain is to see whether operators will be a able to move beyond providing connectivity services. Traditional operator’s sales channels are often not made to target the specific efficiency needs of enterprise that could be addressed by M2M. Key success factor for operators will be the ability to expose some of their strategic assets like connectivity and QOS guaranties, communication capabilities, location services and analytics to take an increasing role in the M2M value chain.

yankee-M2M

When going through the major vertical Applications for M2M, like healthcare or Connect car there is a business opportunity for operators to provide communication capabilities, location and analytics as a service to enrich these vertical applications and take a stronger position in the M2M value chain.

… and finally act, act now!

Operators need to act: they need to reach beyond usual services to stay relevant in the communications business and they need to reach beyond people to grow their revenues.