Massive IoT demands the unique capabilities of hyperscale vendors

Massive IoT demands the unique capabilities of hyperscale vendors Norbert Muhrer joined Quectel in 2017 and serves as President & CSO. He has helped to take the business to an undisputed global leadership position, which he insists is an achievement of the diligent and ambitious team at Quectel. Before joining Quectel, Norbert was Senior Vice President of the Gemalto IoT business, which was active in 20 countries, and whose customer base included top blue-chip customers like Audi, Honeywell, Verifone, Philips, Continental and Panasonic, as well as a large number of innovative SMEs.

With revenue in the UK IoT market projected by Statista to reach US$25.95bn in 2023 and grow to US$48.7bn by 2028, there are substantial growing pains for IoT to overcome as it transforms the operational efficiency, environmental impact and competitiveness of businesses. However, it’s not just revenue growth that is at stake. IoT is increasingly proving itself as a force for good, delivering societal benefits and powering initiatives that improve healthcare and safety, reduce waste and conserve energy.

To realize these benefits, organizations need to be able to access the latest innovations at price points that are viable for their business cases. Critically, these products need to be readily available without supply constraints that can limit customers’ ability to roll-out devices at IoT scale. To sustain success, IoT can’t be a technologist’s hobby, it must engage with the economics of reality and that means delivering flexibility, scalability and reliability to support a vast landscape of emerging business cases. 

“IoT devices are user-specific,” confirms Norbert Muhrer, the president and chief sales officer of Quectel Wireless Solutions. “Only those customers who 100% target their vertical market will be successful so that’s where we start. We identify what the vertical market use case is and what the customer is intending to achieve. Based on that, we can assemble a compelling portfolio of solutions not just for customers that are deploying IoT devices in the UK but also for UK customers that are pursuing international business.”

Global fragmentation

IoT is a fragmented global industry with different connectivity technologies, varying regulations and diverse industrial standards.  There are also differing certification requirements in separate countries. Addressing those global needs demands in-depth knowledge of all the markets in which an IoT device could be deployed, their certification requirements and the regulations that devices need to comply with. 

“If you’re deploying in the UK, Australia, Japan, Korea, Latin America and the US, for example, you need solutions that are tailored for each market,” Muhrer points out. “By tailored I don’t mean that a customized solution needs to be developed repeatedly but that customers want to access regional variants of standard solutions to minimize cost and delay. Being able to offer that demands vast R&D resources so market variants can be created that meet both the vertical sector and geographic demands customers face.”

Small regional vendors just can’t compete here because they lack the resources to develop variants to support the myriad vertical use cases of IoT in every market on the globe. High-volume makers of IoT modules and antennas have not only the scale, but also the experience and insights from deployments in many different vertical sectors and geographies to bring to their development, which fuels innovation and cost efficiency.

Permanent innovation

“Our objective is to provide new and innovative solutions to the market,” confirms Muhrer. “To be frank, that’s not what we were like five or six years ago, when we were a fast follower, but we have turned our approach around, and we are now an innovation leader. When a new technology arrives, we want to be first to market and we are increasingly achieving this. For example, we recently announced a module for Amazon Sidewalk, as well as new satellite and non-terrestrial network modules. We’re not doing crazy experiments or jumping into murky waters that we don’t understand but, inside the realm of our core competencies, we are permanently innovating, and I think customers expect that of an industry leader.”

Customers also expect suppliers to be able to keep up with the demands of IoT as the number of connected devices continues to proliferate by billions of devices per year. Muhrer is confident that Quectel is well-positioned here because it has recently opened a new 160,000-square-metre factory in which it practices what it preaches.  “We produce extremely high volumes of our products so we’re keen that our quality of production is excellent,” he says. “That is best established with automated robotics which we have been using heavily for more than five years. We’re also using artificial intelligence in the factories to visually inspect our products, which has greatly enhanced our productivity.”

This quality assurance is augmented by supply assurance, with Quectel sourcing production from locations in Malaysia and Brazil which also adopt the same high quality and high volume production standards. “We run a very lean organization and it’s no secret, because we are publicly listed, that our profit margins are 18%,” says Muhrer. “We can live fine on that, but our competitors’ margins tend to need to be at least double. We can provide cost-effective products and innovate those in mass volume for the customer. The volume of solutions we sell lessens the technology cost per unit and that drives our capability to deliver highly efficient but lower cost products that are dedicated to use cases and deployment scenarios.”

IoT for good

Access to innovation is a vital lifeblood for the continued adoption of IoT which is amply demonstrating the value it creates in deployments across the UK. The largest market within IoT is Industrial IoT, with a projected market volume of US$8.81bn in 2023 while the second largest sector is automotive, according to Statista. These growth areas are seeing not only new revenue opportunities but also enabling new forms of IoT for good.

“In Industrial IoT, the classical model of harnessing IoT to enable smart measurements is leading to environmental improvements because, when companies know their emissions or their energy consumption, they can work to reduce their consumption or their impact,” explains Muhrer. “London, for example, is a very old city, that in common with cities of a similar age has an ageing infrastructure with water pipelines that lose a massive amount of water. Smart sensors can reveal where leaks occur and enable providers to rectify their infrastructure with enhanced accuracy.”

Muhrer also cites smart home technologies to control the humidity level of homes and minimize their power consumption which are reducing environmental impacts. He also details applications involving the optimization of waste bin emptying services. “They only send the trucks to empty bins that need emptying,” he says. “It cuts costs for the authorities so they can spend the tax money on better investments such as schools, kindergartens and public healthcare.”

To maintain this momentum, enterprises need access to modules, chipsets and antennas and ideally, these should be easy to integrate, have unconstrained supply and be backed by a portfolio of services such as original design manufacturing (ODM), certification, testing and support. Importantly, IoT isn’t service providers’ core business, it’s simply an enabler of their offerings so being able to streamline, simplify and accelerate device design and introduction is an essential enabler of IoT growth of the sort projected by Statista.

For this, enterprises are relying on the vendor sector to provide more complete portfolios of products and services. “Quectel used to be a cellular-only company but we have grown to develop our multi-faceted portfolio that encompasses cellular, GNSS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules in addition to antennas and ODM solutions,” explains Muhrer. “We facilitate companies in the UK, no matter what solutions they are seeking, to connect their devices with the latest, state-of-the-art technology. That could be anything from low data rate, highly power efficient connections in narrowband IoT, such as those for smart meters or agriculture devices, to 5G customer premise equipment that enables fixed wireless access with extremely high data rates.”

The low-end scenario involves enabling connected sensors in crop fields to optimize the usage of fertilizer and ensure maximized yields, while the high-end 5G use case involves bringing wireless broadband connectivity to users, often for the first time or enabling advanced medical applications. 

For Muhrer, Quectel’s value lies not only in its technology but also in its ability to make it easy for customers to deploy Quectel solutions. “We guide customers with our service support from the design stage until the customers’ devices are certified,” he says. “We try and help their journey along as we want our customers to have a pleasant experience both in the technology and the support that we give them. Once their devices are in the field, we also support them with any issues that arise.”

“For the UK in particular, companies are good at exporting and are part of a global market and that’s why they need a globalized supply chain,” confirms Muhrer. “IoT is a hyperscale, global ecosystem and its needs can only be met by hyperscale, global vendors that can maximise IoT’s potential for profit – and for good.”

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