Cable Companies and Smaller Mobile Operators Progress on the IoT Services Front

K. Weldon
K. Weldon

Summary Bullets:

  • Comcast, Cox Communications, and UScellular all launched IoT businesses in the 2016-2018 time period.
  • While the big mobile operators get most of the deals, these ‘alternative’ providers continued to improve their portfolios and gained new IoT customers in 2020.

2020 was a mixed bag for IoT services as COVID-19 tamped down some opportunities while spawning others, especially in the areas of healthcare, building management, and remote operations. While new services were launched by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, there are other service providers in the mix. MVNOs such as Sierra Wireless and KORE offer increasingly industry-specific IoT connectivity and platforms, using aggregated cellular connectivity from top mobile operators. In addition, several cable companies and consumer-oriented cellular providers also launched IoT services or full-fledged business units in 2016-2018 to further monetize their networks and offer added value to their business customer bases. In 2020, they added platform capabilities, launched services for new verticals with wide-ranging solution partners, and gained a sprinkling of new customers.

Cox Communications

Cox Business launched its Cox2M service in 2018 with Manheim Auto Auction, a Cox-owned company. It targets small and mid-market companies in Cox franchise areas, focused on asset tracking and monitoring. Cox has since productized a service called Lot Vision, offering asset visibility and analytics for automotive fleets and industrial equipment. The provider has some solid capabilities in IoT; it is using LoRaWAN gateway technology to provide services rapidly and cost-effectively, and it also offers WiFi and NB-IoT access options. Cox has recently integrated IoT and ‘smart technologies’ for college campuses, leveraging WiFi access and focusing on optimal utility usage and management, traffic control, physical security, and facilities maintenance. New customers in 2020 included Florida-based car dealer HGreg, which uses Cox’s Lot Vision service, and John Deere, which implemented smart asset-tracking technology at its supply facility in Augusta, Georgia.

Comcast

Comcast launched MachineQ in October 2016, a B2B IoT service that uses LPWAN technology to offer enterprise-grade solutions for businesses and municipal organizations. The service is deployed using LoRaWAN technology and features MQCentral, a full-service online portal. MachineQ also provides integrated hardware and software for low-power IoT solutions such as gateways and indoor and outdoor sensors. In 2018, Comcast announced customers in asset tracking, utility metering, water metering, facilities management, and agriculture and expanded MachineQ to reach 15 cities. In 2019/2020, it gained smart cities customers, such as the city of Wichita, Kansas, which used it to develop an improved gunshot detection system, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which announced a partnership with MachineQ to monitor and measure sustainability efforts. While MachineQ was originally planned to evolve to a nationwide service, it has changed course. It is now positioned more as a platform than a network service and has not expanded beyond its 2018 base of 15 cities. It also supports ‘build your own’ IoT projects, offering developer tools and API libraries.

UScellular

UScellular launched a cellular IoT service in 2017 to offer fleet management, asset monitoring, automation, and control to SMBs. The operator has a strong alliance with Nokia and is using the vendor’s WING management platform (branded ConnectHQ) to enable customers to mass-activate and manage their IoT devices as well as monitor and get alerted to unusual usage. It added to its access options with a rollout of low-power network LTE-M throughout its footprint in 2020. It is also involved in offering LoRaWAN-based solutions, due to its partnership for smart agriculture with Internet of Things America. While UScellular rarely discloses reference customers, it cites a major Midwestern steel company using fleet management and a rural Missouri farm that uses its monitoring and control solutions. UScellular began touting cellular private networks in 2020, positioning them as adding key security and control benefits to IoT deployments. Spartan Camera (for the Spartan GoCam) was added to its partner list in 2020, signaling possible deployments for video analytics and security surveillance.

Cable companies already compete against the mobile operators for business services and have done well in the SMB market. UScellular also has some existing customers for cellular B2B services, including managed services. With IoT, they all have the opportunity to draw larger businesses and expand beyond their base. In addition, Comcast and Cox participated in the recent CBRS and C-Band auctions, signaling possible expansion into private networks and other B2B mobility offerings. They may also want to cut costs by limiting the need to pay mobile operators for MVNO services.

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