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Internet of Things (IoT) is reshaping entire industries, shifting the way businesses operate, employees work and integrating into the lifestyles and homes of consumers. Businesses are using IoT to differentiate their existing products and services from the competition, creating new products and enhancing customer experiences.

Telecom Review secured an interview with Vodafone’s Head of IoT Sales in the Middle East, Thomas Hanappi to discuss some of Vodafone’s most innovative IoT projects in the region and how they have paved the way to their clients’ digital transformation.

First of all, what impact will IoT have on businesses?

Despite being an emerging technology, the Vodafone IoT Barometer has shown that over a third (34%) of business leaders in the Middle East said their companies have already adopted IoT and 72% agree that their core business strategy has changed for the better as a result. This can especially be seen in retail, manufacturing and automotive sectors; where IoT sensors are helping to turn one-off product sales into ongoing subscriptions. While small-and-medium-sized businesses are using IoT to help scale their enterprises and increase in their operational efficiency.

But some of the most innovative IoT projects can be seen in government-led initiatives. For example, IoT is helping the MEA region to deliver higher standards of living for growing populations and address resource challenges. Countries that are dealing with a scarcity of groundwater reserves are using IoT technologies like smart meter networks to resolve these issues. Smart meters play a crucial role in the transition to a sustainable energy future in facilitating smooth integration of variable renewable energies. The implementation of this technology is also a crucial step forward for the regions’ own smart cities initiative. IoT lies at the heart of a smart city, improving integrated city management, providing better quality of life and public services for citizens and economic progression.

And it’s not just businesses that are benefitting from IoT adoption. Connected devices are helping to up-skill young people and enhance the digital skills of populations with emerging start-ups and technology companies. Research has found that more than 60% of the population in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are below the age of 30, and two-thirds of the population own a smartphone. This is driving greater demand for connected services and faster networks like 5G — which is beginning to be rolled out in several ME countries this year.

What IoT-related products, services or projects has Vodafone been working on recently?

Here at Vodafone, it’s our mission to simplify IoT and help businesses achieve high-quality, end-to-end solutions through reliable and secure global network technology. One of our most recent global projects is Vodafone Business Invent. This Application-as-a Service platform democratises the IoT landscape by providing a managed connectivity service that helps organisations develop a bespoke IoT strategy. We’re able to deliver customised, managed IoT applications and services to enterprises of any size and sector, rapidly, securely and cost effectively. This was a huge step forward for business connectivity and represents a wider drive from Vodafone to remove the barriers to digitalisation, providing businesses access to the latest technologies.

Additionally, our recent partnership with Arm highlights our aims to significantly reduce cost and complexity for businesses looking to implement Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. This agreement helps enterprises to securely deploy, remotely provision and manage massive numbers of IoT devices across global markets at a significantly lower cost, helping them succeed in a digital world.

How can Vodafone help its clients to develop their IoT strategy?

Vodafone is the global leader in IoT with 85 million connections worldwide. We’ve been part of many businesses’ IoT-led, digital transformation journeys over the years, from pilots through to full-scale implementation with real benefits.

Vodafone is renowned for our local partnerships that we maintain in various regions with other operators. Customers can put their trust in us knowing that we have the global expertise and experience to develop and deploy IoT solutions at scale, in a secure manner, and will benefit from our know-how of local specifics (e.g. regulation) and partners.

But to really make the most of our experience and to share our knowledge, we have created an IoT Sophistication Index, which assesses how advanced organisations are when it comes to IoT. As part of this project, we have developed a self-assessing tool, which businesses can use to find out their own level of IoT sophistication. We’ve now assessed nearly 3,000 companies and our analysis confirms that both strategy and implementation are important in getting the best results. While there are benefits at every step of the way, it’s clear that the most sophisticated users of IoT achieve the greatest returns on investment.

In your opinion, what is holding some businesses back from adopting IoT?

Our research found that the most common barrier for those considering IoT adoption was not knowing how to find the right solutions in the first place; 40% said this was holding them back. This was followed by the lack of a strong business case; an obstacle reported by 31% of companies. This is because these companies are likely to start their IoT journeys with off-the-shelf solutions. While this helps them push ahead with implementation to deliver quick wins, it doesn’t set up a robust digital transformation strategy, which would help businesses to gain even more.

With the right approach to implementation these challenges can be overcome. For instance, a crucial first step would be considering IoT as a key part of the wider business’ digital strategy. By bringing together data from different IoT initiatives across the organisation, it will put you in a better position to draw and action strategic insights.

Additionally, integrating IoT with your core business systems and processes can have a major impact on the results you see. Integration can also help you move beyond initial, singular IoT objectives and expand your IoT goals to achieve wider, tangible, business outcomes.

What changes will emerging technologies, including IoT, bring to the Middle East?

The MEA region is a dynamic and rapidly developing region, full of opportunities for investors and businesses alike. Therefore, it’s clear why IoT adoption is fast becoming an integral part of its digital transformation.

Looking to the near future, many businesses are already considering the use of 5G. In fact, Saudi Arabia has already announced its plans for the largest 5G commercial roll-out in the Middle East and North Africa. The UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are also in the process of 5G testing and deployment. Mobile edge computing (MEC) will also play an important role in the 5G network, by processing application traffic closer to users. For some adopters of IoT, that will mean stronger application performance, less risk of downtime and faster data transfer speeds. Additionally, Narrow Band IoT enables many IoT use cases which require extended coverage and battery-operated devices, e.g. water metering.

Currently, we’re also seeing more public cloud providers emerging in the Middle East. UAE regions are ahead in many ways in the adoption of technology, but when it comes to cloud servers it is about four to five years behind. Yet, this is changing with larger companies moving their operations into the regions. This will make a big impact in terms of scalability and ease of deployment in line with local regulatory guidelines.

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