The term IoT platform is being increasingly used by vendors across the entire IoT and confusion is starting to be created about what an IoT platform is and what key attributes it should offer. “The IoT platform is very important because it is where our customers, their business and their data meet with the NTT Group,” explains Taku Morinobu, the director of IoT Office at NTT Communications. “An IoT platform is the place where us, our customer and partners meet and therefore is vital.”
“The attributes of an IoT platform are first openness so it’s easy for all the participants to connect,” he adds. “Next, an IoT platform should be easy to use so people doing real business are able to connect and use the data that comes into the platform from sensors and the network. Finally, attributes in the proof of concept stage should include infrastructure management, operations management and security.”
Security is clearly one of the greatest challenges the wider deployment of IoT faces and Morinobu feels that NTT Communications has substantial skills and experience to bring to the market. “We recognise security as a decisive factor in IoT and we have done a series of projects in Japan and South East Asia to promote security-first design for IoT. We’ve been using our IoT evangelists to talk to customers and governments and the Japanese government in particular has had a very positive reaction, making public IoT security guidelines.”
NTT Communications itself offers NTT Security which provides global security via Secure Operations Centres located across the world. That offer comprises managed security services which the company sees having substantial value in securing industrial IoT (IIoT) deployments.
Nevertheless, IoT continues to be an early adopter market, although Morinobu points out that some sectors are more advanced in their deployments than others. “Industry 4.0 initiatives are advanced in markets such as Germany and Japan where governments promoted the concept but generally, the manufacturing industry is leading the charge in IoT,” he says. “For example, NTT Communications has collaborated with heavy equipment manufacturer, Kubota, early.”
Manufacturing is far from the only sector in which IoT is gaining traction and initiatives are bearing fruit and reaching significant scale. “Other areas that are early adopters relate to vehicles and we’ve worked with companies like SAP on telemetrics projects and have participated in research with Toyota for connected cars,” adds Morinobu. “We feel that other industries that can benefit relatively easily from the synchronous information that IoT enables include healthcare and asset management and these sectors are also advancing in IoT.”
NTT Communications’ IoT Office sees its role as one of helping vertical industries in IoT. “We accelerate our customers’ IoT projects by helping customers test, manage and deploy IoT systems end-to-end from sensors to devices to data and more,” Morinobu explains. “Our customers, especially in Asia, find challenges in connecting the different parts of IoT systems together. People who provide sensors just provide sensors so an integration problem exists. In addition, the market has changed recently because customers now want to see the system as a whole when, five years ago, they focused on individual parts of the system.”
NTT Communications therefore is well positioned to help by offering the network as a single platform and bringing expertise beyond the network to IoT projects. “We believe that customers want to accelerate their IoT services with their partners so our ability to work with partners is one of our strengths,” he adds. “We’re actively seeking partners who are strong in specific sectors. We don’t know about end user healthcare problems, for example, so we’ve team up with other organisations. In agriculture we partner because we don’t know about farming.”
These advanced verticals are leading the deployment of IoT but many others industries are now well-engaged with IoT and the long-projected multi-billion endpoint market, while not here yet, is set to become a reality. “Right now, not a lot of people have been using IoT at that scale so the problems of huge scale remain on paper rather than in the real world,” acknowledges Morinobu. “We feel that security and device and data management will be a huge challenge for organisations. As a carrier we have a history of managing services at great scale and that will be a big factor in how we can help customers.”
“The scale is not here yet but we are seeing a lot of industrial manufacturers installing sensors on their products recently,” he adds. “Some Japanese companies, for example, are putting sensors on items we haven’t really imagined before so that will really move the market on.”
It’s apparent from this that much of the technology, if not fully developed already, is maturing and the greater challenges faced by organisations lie in terms of their business models and organisational culture. “Technological capabilities are not among the challenges that have shown up so far,” says Morinobu. “In Japan and Asia, we feel the challenges are mainly relating to business models and corporate culture so that’s why we’ve been working with our active customers to make operations and use cases that are focused on growing the potential needs of their customers.”
To achieve this, NTT Communications has grown its B2B2X partnerships to actively learn from its customers’ industries. “This means our customers can define not only what data they want to access but the IoT infrastructure itself as a whole, not just a single system,” he adds.
Morinobu is confident the mass market is poised to come into fruition and sees huge opportunities for all participants. “It’s a market that’s now growing very fast in terms of the devices and sensors being deployed,” he says. “Cloud applications are starting to connect with each other via application programme interfaces (APIs) which will add accessibility and ease of use but the complexity is also getting greater and greater. That requires more integration and help is needed. We’re positioned to provide our customers with that help.”