Helping the best IoT teams launch millions of devices everywhere on earth.
You're a scooter-sharing start-up who just raised $100 million from Seq-reessen-losa Ventures. Cool. It's time to drop those 50,000 scooters you just unloaded from container ships fresh from Shenzhen. You have 100 cities on your todo list. What's your plan to keep track of them once you've unleashed them on millions of unsuspecting citizens?
Lucky for you, every scooter has a SIM card and an LTE data plan so your engineering team can keep track of them no matter where people scoot, right?
For a successful launch, every micro-mobility company needs to keep their devices available 24/7 for maximum vehicle utilization. A big part of this is keeping them all online and connected, allowing users to ride and your team to know where to jump in to fix any problems that may occur.
IoT connectivity is the essential piece of the micro-mobility IoT stack. Without it, data would simply live on the devices and never yield insights.
Yet many organizations we work with don’t have a dedicated connectivity department. Because connectivity cuts across many areas, some companies struggle to decide who’s responsible.
As IoT evolves and expands, perhaps more organizations will assign a dedicated connectivity team—but for many companies, that’s not immediately possible due to resource constraints. In some larger enterprises, organizations may enlist an existing relationship with a carrier to manage their connectivity externally. But for organizations newer to IoT, handling connectivity can be a voyage into uncharted waters.
Making Assumptions about IoT Connectivity
In many of today’s IoT companies, a lot of the internal experience comes from the software side. These software companies are concerned about uptime and service levels, but actual connectivity to the cloud internet is often a baked-in assumption. There are servers, VPN links, and integration protocols on their internal block diagrams, but chances are there aren’t required blocks for underlying connectivity. For IoT, a device’s connection to the internet—and in some cases, to other devices on the network—is a critical link that must be intentionally designed along with the software infrastructure.
First off, communicate the message that every department plays a role in connectivity, especially with cellular. It’s not just the engineering team making sure devices stay connected. Everyone—from the finance department to the product team—needs to understand the basics of how it works and the value it provides to the business.
Here’s how connectivity responsibilities reach into various departments—and how they evolve during the product’s lifecycle:
Engineers are the most obvious stewards of connectivity. They’re often the first team members responsible for an organization’s IoT connectivity decisions, especially when a team is still developing their IoT product. Engineers provide technical recommendations and research for connectivity options, whether that’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, or LoRa. If cellular is the right choice, there are additional decisions to make around the specific technology—which module category and connection protocol are best suited for the use case?
How much data will be sent, and how frequently? Do the devices require persistent network connections or just occasional check-ins? How long does the battery need to last? How will antenna selection affect signal performance?
The product team helps an organization interpret the device data that connectivity provides from the field. With that goal in mind, they need to understand the deployment’s data connectivity needs. If the project requires high bandwidth connection with a Category 6 4G LTE modem and 500 GB of data per month, it falls to the product team to dictate those requirements and determine the capabilities of the organization’s connectivity partner. Other responsibilities could include validating carrier partner API capabilities, creating device launch plans, and assessing radio access and coverage requirements.
The product team also determines how the organization will handle customer lifecycle and billing in regards to connectivity. Will the cost of connectivity be integrated into an existing monthly service fee model? Will it be an up-front fee based on the product’s life cycle? Or will the organization pass connectivity costs directly to the customer for each billing cycle?
For the finance team, IoT connectivity must be understood as a value driver, not just a cost line item. In the pre-launch stage, the finance department receives the connectivity requirements from the product team and determines how the expected costs align with the organization’s business model. How will those costs affect hardware payback or product lifecycle ROI? The finance team should consider additional value from connectivity platform providers through redundant coverage, dashboard collaboration and analytics, and API availability.
Working with connectivity providers with these features will reduce up-front integration costs as well as future operational overhead. Once budget expectations are established and the project is launched, the finance team should continue to monitor data usage and costs, to adjust ongoing budget expectations and gain a clear picture of connectivity investment.
For the operations team, working SIM cards into the supply chain may be their biggest connectivity-related responsibility. To achieve that, they coordinate with their contract manufacturer and IoT SIM vendor to keep up with purchasing and manufacturing timelines—making sure parts arrive on time, in the right format, and in the right quantity. They also facilitate the initial device provisioning process into internal systems as units get tested, ship, and come online.
As part of this, operations will likely have the best perspective on how to link a provider’s SIM card identifiers such as ICCID to device IMEI or the organization’s internal device identifier. After launch, the operations team continues to monitor the inventory of available SIMs and maintains an ongoing conversation with the connectivity vendor on potential new markets, forecasts, and deployments
Once a device is launched in the field, the customer success team takes the lead on understanding connectivity problems and how to deal with them. They should familiarize themselves with the tools, dashboards, and applications available through the connectivity vendor and leverage that data along with their own internal metrics.
The customer success team also needs to incorporate connectivity in their technical support. When a problem arises, they should be checking for connectivity issues in addition to device firmware or internal server problems.
Essentially, the answer is “everyone.”
The entire organization needs to understand the value of connectivity and have access to the connectivity platform. Teams should communicate concerns, expectations, ideas, and roadblocks to each other. Collaboration is essential to making this work.
As engineers and product managers prepare for a connected product launch, make sure all of your teams have access to the data they need.
If an engineer wants to check a single device’s connection status and recent history, they should be able to open their IoT dashboard and find that data.
If the finance department needs to review pricing and spend, they can login through the portal and determine an ROI.
And your customer success department can view live connection status of for every device and can tie support tickets back to scooters that might need your help.
This is why we’ve built an IoT platform to work for every team and everyone - all based on our observations from working with thousands of clients implementing their IoT projects.
Ultimately, our goal is to simplify connectivity, make it accessible throughout your organization, and make sure Seq-reessen-losa Ventures' $100 million dollar investment is well spent.
Previously published at https://hologram.io/blog/iot-connectivity-who-owns-it/