Channel Forecast: Charting mobile opportunities and the way ahead

Over the coming years we will witness big changes in the mobile landscape, building on accelerating growth in market opportunities and the advent of 5G. To reflect these evolving dynamics, September’s Channel Forecast insight session examined the current state of the mobile market across the channel, spotlighting the key drivers and developments already in full swing, while highlighting what’s required to realise the full potential of over-the-air solutions in the run up to the 2025 PSTN switch-off and beyond.

Bernie McPhillipsIt is crystal clear that the mobile market is super-dynamic with multiple opportunities for innovative and competitive success – and intelligent mobile data is an area where this dynamism is well-established. “Mobile broadband alone doesn’t cut it,” stated Bernie McPhillips (pictured left), Sales Director, Pangea. “It’s about more than taking a mobile SIM and putting it in a router. There are many intricacies in the way intelligent mobile data can be delivered – private VPNs, private APNs, static IPs, multi-network and single network, for example. And there is a need to connect things as well as people, make inanimate objects smart, automated and more efficient. Mobile data is supporting every industry and the trend is going upwards with a 33 per cent increase in mobile data year-on-year.”

Julian ParvenThe channel would be wise to find innovative ways to harness the growing volume of mobile data and bolster relationships with customers, says Julien Parven (pictured left), Director, Daisy Partner Business. “Large sections of the partner channel still perceive IoT as switching small packets of data,” he added. “But when intelligent mobile data is overlayed onto the IoT environment it opens up many application possibilities. There needs to be broader thinking to gain an understanding of what the end customer wants to achieve. We’re not just selling small data enabled things, we’re selling complex solutions that require a consultancy approach. Once you start consulting with the customer there is money to be made.”

Two-way conversation
Rob KittlerRob Kittler (pictured left), Head of Connectivity Practice, Gamma, also noted that from a mobile perspective the conversation has shifted significantly. “Two-plus years ago we and partners would have a one-way conversation with the customer,” he commented. “But since the pandemic customers understand how mobile can underpin their critical services. The efficiencies these technologies bring has been the driver and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. As 4G and 5G services deploy and develop, customers will feel more comfortable in dealing with us as an industry because we are always there to help and advise.”

Large sections of the partner channel still perceive IoT as switching small packets of data. But when intelligent mobile data is overlayed onto the IoT environment it opens up many application possibilities

Mobile technology has leapfrogged from 2G to 3G, 4G and now 5G. And each jump in technological development has, in its day, been a macro driver for new markets – 5G is no exception. “5G is fundamental to the continued evolution of our industry,” stated McPhillips. “People often think 5G is faster 4G, but the benefit to businesses, and our channel, is far more than that.”

McPhillips presents the 5G opportunity as a triangle: Supremely fast mobile broadband that will be seen as an alternative to fixed line. Ultra reliable low latency, as low as a millisecond, allowing real-time transfer of information which is critical for driverless cars and smart cities, for example. And thirdly, connection density: 5G does away with network congestion with up to one million devices per square kilometre, which is critical for smart cities. “This is enabled by network slicing, apportioning it to various types of traffic, creating dedicated parts of the 5G network for large enterprises, the public sector, blue light emergency services etc – so 5G is much more than fast 4G,” noted McPhillips.

Over the coming years we’re likely to see far greater transformations in the mobile landscape, building on the growth of mobile data and the advent of disruptive 5G solutions. This emerging market will be at the forefront of a revolution in how mobile is perceived and understood, according to Parven. “For the first time mobile technology is being seen as business led, simply because of the capability of that 5G spectrum to handle innovative applications,” he stated. “In terms of how 5G will fit into channel partners’ portfolio, it’s very much about changing the way partners think about mobile technology. It’s about getting a broader reach into applications that previously were unable to be supported by a mobility backbone, then being able to recognise the breadth of the opportunity.”

Since the pandemic customers understand how mobile can underpin their critical services. The efficiencies these technologies bring has been the driver and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future

Sunsetting will also drive some key new developments in IoT, according to McPhillips. Three plans to shut down 3G services in 2024 while Vodafone and EE could close 3G earlier to focus more sharply on 4G and 5G services. The big questions: What will be the implications of sunsetting on IoT applications and devices that rely on 2G and 3G connectivity? And what upgrade opportunities does 2G/3G sunsetting present to the channel?

Market unlocked
McPhillips noted that sunsetting essentially turns 3G sites into 4G sites and represents a channel opportunity from an airtime and hardware perspective, with a future proof aspect too. “I always think of 2G and 3G as the PSTN of the mobile network,” he explained. “PSTN was revolutionary in its day, as were 2G and 3G, but they have served their purpose and are increasingly expensive to maintain. Therefore operators are looking to sunset these networks to free up frequency and bandwidth and put that technical and logistical resource into more capable network infrastructures for high data bandwidth applications.”

The 2G and 3G sunset will open up a plethora of opportunities that were beyond the channel’s reach until now. There will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of live IoT connections out there, but the cost of change is going to be prohibitive to winning that business if it involves a change of SIM, noted McPhillips. “When the network sunsets devices will no longer be connected, and when the device is visited it’s an opportunity to change the SIM,” said McPhillips. “For the first time in possibly decades this business is up for grabs and could be won from a competitor. That’s going to drive high competition and the channel needs to be nimble. That market is about to be blown open when these networks sunset.”

As we can see, the fast developing mobile solution world opens up a raft of opportunities for innovation and growth. However, mobile solutions can be complicated for customers which opens up educational opportunities for partners. In this context, Kittler believes that a consultancy play will enable resellers to realise their full potential and help drive growth. “Many end customers do not recognise the opportunity that connectivity speeds can bring, and we have to go through an education piece,” said Kittler. “If you said to a customer I have a magic wand... what analytics would you like from the field, from engineers, sales people, from products – how can we help? It would be amazing to see some of the reactions, and 5G slots into that solution.”

Many of today’s business challenges can be addressed by applying mobile data solutions in an innovative way. So much so that Parven says mobility is becoming more and more the industry watchword. Meanwhile, sunsetting highlights the growth of mobile as an enabling technology. “Sunsetting is going to force change and with that comes opportunity,” added Parven. “It enables us to have deeper more valuable conversations with customers to gain a broad understanding of their business needs, as opposed to selling a piece of kit that has some enabling air time. The conversation is broadened over a longer period of time, which strengthens relationships with customers.”

The dynamic nature of the mobile market will likely help customers overcome a challenge they have never confronted, the 2025 PSTN switch off, which may prompt them to look at mobile in a way that acknowledges its greater acceptance as a business solution. “The 2025 opportunity is huge and there is a big role for mobile,” commented Kittler. “Obviously, there is a host of VoIP overlay services that come into action but the key is the connectivity and 4G and 5G’s role in that story is absolutely key.”

McPhillips noted that there are many connected things which, come 2025 and the PSTN switch off, may prove too difficult to connect again via fixed line. “There’s a huge opportunity to connect wirelessly using intelligent mobile data,” he stated. “While the UK has a developed fixed network, there are many instances where it is not logistically possible nor commercially viable to consider a fixed line, whether for primary connectivity or back up. There are many things connected to the PSTN network that are not phone lines, like payment terminals, CCTV cameras, door entry systems, security barriers and intercoms, and it would be difficult for anybody to consider a fixed line solution. Over-the-air connectivity, cellular connectivity and intelligent mobile data is being considered as a viable alternative.”

Demystifying IoT
Intelligent mobile data and IoT opportunities are diverse in many senses, but a common characteristic is that these solutions are not given due attention by many channel players. “IoT is more misrepresented than misunderstood,” noted Kittler. “Partners are still basing their understanding on what they were told years ago. We are selling efficiencies into customers now as opposed to a piece of plastic that plugs into the Internet and SIM cards.”

According to McPhillips, IoT is an umbrella acronym, and within it there are many different layers and applications – such as analytics, the platform, the device and the connectivity. “Opportunities exist where intelligent mobile data can be used to connect as a primary form of connectivity, where Sogea or fibre might not be available, too expensive to install or takes too long,” added McPhillips.

“The opportunities are practically endless with high data bandwidth applications, high revenues per service and it’s often easy to deploy, so getting into intelligent mobile data is a brilliant segway into the IoT. We have to get past the myth that there is no money to be made. We have 15 case studies on our website and each one is a million pound contract for our partners. It’s here, it’s now and the channel is best placed to take customers on that journey.”


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