IoT at Mobile World Conference with Cisco and SAP
Wow, that was one heck of a week. MWC 2014 is over, but, it was incredible. The show was packed, the collaboration with customers was dynamic and, once again, Barcelona was a fantastic host. For me though, it was also a clear statement that the Internet of Things (IoT) is exciting and gaining steam with mobile operators. In fact, as I looked through three discreet lenses, I could clearly see the excitement from customers and the advancement of the technologies that will help to enable them. I walked no less than 5 miles a day, traversing what became my own personal MWC IoT Triangle, jamming in customer and partner meetings in the Cisco booth, running to SAP’s booth to collaborate on our joint demos and then to the Plaza De Palau where I was hosting Smart and Connected City tours.
Joint SAP/Cisco Demos
Our friends at SAP had a killer booth. It was large, well-staffed and one of the most inviting booths at the show. It didn’t hurt that they methodically transitioned from morning cappuccino bar to evening happy hour to the delight of all who visited. But, what struck me was the focus on IoT and the crowds that were constantly surrounding the two demos we were jointly highlighting. There were two specific demos highlighting Cisco’s infrastructure and SAP’s software:
- SK Solutions Connected Crane. In reality, these are multistory machines supported by Cisco’s ruggedized wireless access points, but transformed for the show by a scaled down replica towering 10 feet in the air. The demo showed two cranes, side by side, controlled by joysticks that could mirror their real life movements. The demo, intended to show the power of the collision avoidance software, tracking sensor data from throughout each crane, constantly monitoring each move and assuring that the two cranes never touched, even while booth traffic made frantic thrust of the joysticks in their attempts. However, for me, the more interesting part was the post-demo conversations I had with folks, where they were able to quickly apply the same logic to other collision avoidance opportunities in transportation and mining for example.
- Smart Vending. This life-size solution was constantly abuzz with activity. I actually had a chance to get in on the action and walked away with a Kit-Kat candy bar. Basically, the demo takes the vending experience to a new level. Participants are offered some free money as credit that is charged to their account and redeemable through a swipe of their show pass on the front of the machine. The machine recognized me by name on an iPad like user interface and then allowed me to flip effortlessly through a near holographic image of various vending items for sale. I chose the Kit-Kat bar; the machine dropped it to the tray and debited my electronic account. Of course, it’s pretty likely that consumers will prefer the option of using their smart phones outside the show, but the concept and execution were flawless.
I have not seen any official numbers, but it certainly felt like we had even more traffic this year than last. Crowds were constantly forming in the public side of the booth, but where it really got exciting was when crossing into the private side. Here, it was standing room only. Demos were at over-capacity, open space seating was difficult to find, closed door meetings were scheduled 24X7. With that said, in my opinion, the IoT demo was one of the highlights. It took a very simple concept, the Connected Car, and showed how a company in that space, with a business model tied to monetizing the aggregation of vehicular data, could manage an unpredictable and rapidly changing network environment through automation of an Evolved Packet Core (EPC) that had been virtualized. In this case, on the front end, a consumer might receive a new on-board diagnostics (OBD) module from a vendor in exchange for an agreement to gather and distribute personal “car-sourced” information to advertisers, transportation planners, repair companies, etc. Moreover, on the back end, as the demand for additional capacity in the network, tied to fluctuations in user behavior, require new virtual workloads to be spun up/down in the packet core, the process can now be automated; reducing what might otherwise be months to provision services. The flexibility afforded through virtualization of network resources such as the packet core is a perfect fit for the constantly changing demands of the IoT world so this was a great way to show Cisco’s leadership in this domain. I’m sure that as business applications become more aware of their network based options, this integration between network and enterprises will be a key differentiator for Cisco.
Smart City: Barcelona
Cisco and Barcelona had begun partnering last year to produce one of Europe’s first examples of a Connected City. I took the opportunity of MWC being here to share both the vision and current reality with several of our service provider customers. The City Council graciously offered to help conduct several hour long walking demonstrating showing several of the proofs of concept the city is currently evaluating. We brought in key customer executives from the US, Europe and Asia to get their reaction and to see how it might fit into their mobile strategies. We showed them a smart bus station which enabled Wi-Fi to waiting citizens and preserved a seamless experience when entering the bus. They saw a smart parking application with road sensors telling frustrated drivers of immediate availability. There was a video surveillance solution that monitored the flow of people through the town square. Finally, a garbage solution that monitored the contents of street collection stations to help drivers prioritize which cans to pick up first.
The response from the SPs was very encouraging. In fact, we confirmed that many of the service providers are not only interested, but beginning to form strategies to deliver services to support emerging city initiatives. With that said, I also found the business model for the service provider is still being defined. Barcelona chose to allow a third party service provider access to the city’s infrastructure, and thus commercial opportunities, in exchange for management of that infrastructure for City purposes. However, there were many other model we discussed and by the end, a fairly robust framework was beginning to emerge. In the end, I walked away not only even more optimistic that service providers can, and actually should, participate in the value chain, but also that there will certainly be many permutations that unfold over the coming months.
In summary, the Internet of Things has definitely made its presence known and MWC has responded favorably. The excitement coming from both service providers and vendors is driving collaboration at an increasing rate and the time is now to execute. Our relationship with our partners, including SAP, cities and service providers will become a cornerstone for our ability to innovate and scale. I’m already looking forward to next year, to see how far we have come and how much further we can see ahead with respect to IoT.