Frank Stoecker, CEO, EMnify: On how IoT will prove mission-critical during – and after – Covid-19

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As the repercussions of Covid-19 continue to be felt, many networks and services need to cope with the extra strain being put upon them. For cloud services, some are already feeling the heat – recent outages with Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and others point to that.

With regard to other companies, however, the effects are less stark. EMnify, a Berlin-headquartered provider of IoT and M2M connectivity, sees relatively stable activity on its network. Why? For the use cases that are accelerating, there are others – such as in transportation – which are now seeing a lull.

Frank Stoecker, CEO of EMnify, sees the positive and the negative for his industry: while he believes the economy will grind towards a recession post-coronavirus, the current situation shows how IoT technologies are serving mission-critical purposes – and will continue to do so.

“IoT is naturally a transformative, disruptive technology that ultimately increases efficiency. Especially in a period of decline, efficiency is everything,” Stoecker tells IoT News. “IoT will be one of the major growth drivers – particularly in certain industries – not just in the time of economic decline, but also afterwards.”

EMnify aims to enable customers to connect IoT and M2M devices globally with a single platform, with a particular focus on cloud-native services. As Stoecker puts it, the company’s mission is to make cellular connectivity for IoT as accessible as any other cloud offering. The company already has a long-standing expertise in partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and, as of this year, with Azure, too.

Most crucially, the wide customer base, incorporating enterprise and communication service providers (CSPs), is key. “We provide CSPs with an enterprise offering they can then deliver to their own market,” explains Stoecker, “and we offer SMEs an A-Z connectivity solution to connect their devices with applications they are already running in the cloud.”

Stoecker cites Blackbird, a Denmark-based provider of solutions which allow manufacturers to digitise their production lines, as one of the most worthwhile case studies. The company’s primary offering is Factbird, an IoT device which can be integrated into existing manufacturing production lines to provide early automatic problem detection and remediation. EMnify’s connectivity – alongside AWS in this instance – takes care of more than 1000 devices and more than 6000 megabytes of data per month. While there are undoubtedly bigger fish in the sea – or birds in the trees, in this case – in terms of data usage the key is reliability in network processes and putting together an out-of-the-box solution.

It is the cloud element which saw EMnify founded in 2014. Many of the leadership team had previously worked at MACH, a provider of roaming enablement services, which was bought by Syniverse in the summer of 2013. “We anticipated, that the existing technology and delivery model was not, at the time, equipped to be ready for the next big wave – all in the cloud,” says Stoecker. “We had to build our whole proposition around cloud – to offer our services as a cloud service, while we ourselves make full use of underlying cloud infrastructure.”

Those who have seen the industry develop will know the difficulties the telecoms industry has faced in cloud readiness. In short, big operators decided to take on the likes of AWS – and lost. Only relatively recently has the roadmap changed for the better; take Verizon – a former competitor and now a long-term AWS customer – partnering up at re:Invent last year to deliver cloud and edge computing souped up with 5G connectivity.

Yet there is still some way to go in other areas, Stoecker notes. For the CEO of an IoT connectivity provider, an obvious question is around standardisation – and where things stand. As before, it’s a case of mix and match – but Stoecker questions operators’ stance on more emerging connectivity technologies.

“I would say there are certain aspects which are working pretty well and on a global scale,” he says. “Classical 2, 3, 4G connectivity roaming works very well all over the world – all components interact in the way they are supposed to. When it comes to NB-IoT and LTE-M, which is in high demand, there is still a lot to do in order to deliver on the promise of true global low power wide area networks (LP-WAN).”

“These technologies are being treated by the operators in a kind of walled garden commercial model – to date, there is not a single provider that can deliver seamless narrowband IoT or LTE-M connectivity all over the world like we have with 2G, 3G, 4G,” Stoecker adds. “There is this walled garden in order to protect the local market from outside competition, which is completely understandable. But, the bottom line is that the capability is to run fully cross-border, cross-region, global deployment, and instead of providing these technologies into walled gardens, they should open it up, and adopt the business model to be fairly compensated for opening it up.”

For now, as organisations attempt to maintain a business-as-usual feel amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the official roadmap for EMnify includes greater cloud integration and more strategic partnerships across industry. But there are grounds for optimism once the worst is over. “Bottom line, post-crisis we will see an acceleration of even more implementation – fast implementation – for IoT tech,” says Stoecker.

Picture credit: EMnify

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