Mobeen Khan, AVP product marketing management Internet of Things Solutions, AT&T Business, http://business.att.com, joins Peggy Smedley to delve into where the IoT and 5G (fifth generation) networks are headed and how businesses can take advantage of these emerging technologies. Khan shares how AT&T is focused on key industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, finance, and retail. He says the challenges faced by each vertical industry is different in nature. Each has a different pace at which they want to make investments. He explains that just like any other technology, network technology goes through an evolution. What’s foremost to AT&T is addressing the customer’s needs with the technology that best fits their use case. When it comes to 5G, customers can benefit from speed, low latency, and the pervasiveness of massive IoT.

To hear this interview on The Peggy Smedley Show in its entirety, log onto www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 10/09/18 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:
So let’s get to it. At the AT&T Business Summit, I met some great AT&T customers, and some partners. I would love for you to talk a little bit what your biggest takeaways were from the event? It was clear that AT&T talking IoT is generating some real excitement in the space and it seems we might finally be moving away from all the hype. But what was your take, are we finally getting people moving from the hype, and actually moving that needle into adoption?

Mobeen Khan:
Yeah, so thank you for joining us at the Business Summit. It was the great event. We had great feedback, as well as the showcases from AT&T, as well as some of our partners. A couple of things I think that stood out for me at the show was that the cadre of customers and the level of customer interaction was just amazing. They were C-level executives from our largest, as well as some smaller customers.

We had engagement, not just around what products do they use from AT&T and its ecosystem, but also where they are headed into their digital transformation journey, and how we can play a role. And as you walk through the showcase floor, the expo hall, and the labs at the Summit, you probably got a glimpse of a lot of the innovation and the research that we’re involved in to help our customers through that digital transformation journey.

I think the second thing that … hit me was the fact that we are becoming very embedded inside of certain verticals. You probably saw us talk about retail, and manufacturing, and healthcare, and financial services. And we’re not just talking about horizontal solutions, but how some of these solutions IoT, mobility, and other networking solutions can actually help in the transformation of those vertical industries. So I think, all in all, it was a really good engagement with customers and I learned a lot from those customers, and from the sessions, and panels during those couple days.

Smedley:
It was interesting when you talk about the digital transformation journey, the sessions, the vertical markets, because all of those play a very critical role in how companies move to actually participating in IoT. Each vertical feels their own way. That digital transformation journey, as you referenced, is different for each vertical and how they experience it in retail, how they experience it in transportation, or manufacturing, finance. Is that what you were able to see in talking to people, is that journey is different for every vertical?

Khan:
Absolutely right. I mean, the challenges faced by each of these verticals are different in nature. I mean, at a certain level, they are all in it to grow their revenue streams, to scale their businesses, to provide better customer experiences, to reduce operating costs. But then when you translate those down to the realtime challenges, they start to put different priorities, the timelines that they want to follow are different. And the challenges that their customers face are different. I mean, just a couple of examples.

In the transportation space, if you look down into one category of fleets, being one category, fleet management. The priority is making sure … not just that the costs are minimized of operating the fleet, but also, compliance because there’s a mandate out there for electronic logging, and each of these fleets now have to comply with those mandates. And so there’s a short-term focus on making sure that they can meet ELD (electronic logging device) mandates. Then there’s also a huge focus on worker safety, and how they drive, and their driving behaviors, and how they can be trained.

So that’s sort of the very specific fleet management transportation challenges. You look at that from a retail perspective. Retail is out there; they are trying to manage their portfolio from floor space to online, and how to increase the foot traffic if they are a brick-and-mortar retailer, versus an online retailer, or a mix of the two, and they’re also trying to get sales per square foot to go higher in their retail stores, as well as better inventory management and supply chain management.

So I think, you said it right, each of these have slightly different challenges, and also a different pace at which they want to make these kind of investments.

Smedley:
Let’s talk compliance and safety. Discussions are all over the place. Sometimes it’s about the cost of sensors coming down. Sometimes it’s about battery life, and reach, and capacity of networks. And they started to get the idea of moving away from a Wi-Fi, and the need to move away from that. People are starting to understand LPWA (low power wide area) and the significance of IoT to their vertical. Especially as costs come down, we had some great conversation. Then expand on why 5G now really comes into play.

Khan:
Let me answer this in two ways. When we go into this whole digital transformation journey, and many of these verticals, especially those verticals that have hard assets, one of the new elements or newer elements of input into that digital transformation journey is around data that the assets are generating for the business. So in the past, you may have instrumented a driver with a tablet that was going to deliver certain goods to a location or go fix something.

But now, you’re instrumenting the driver, you’re instrumenting the car that that driver or truck that driver is driving, and you’re instrumenting perhaps his or her tools and things in the back of the truck that they have. That plays a significant role in terms of the optimizations that you can do in terms of who should go to a work site at what time and with what tool. And is that person in a safe environment and complying with the speeding laws and all of those things? So you can collect so much data around those assets and that you can get levels of optimization that were not possible before IoT. Now, in order to deliver that you have to think about things in two ways. You have to think both horizontally and vertically. So let me expand on that.

When you think about networks and you think about network infrastructure and platforms like low power networks or security services or our platforms for application and data management, you have to think horizontally because these are massive scale platforms. Having the capability to have sensors be in the field for 10 years, to deploy sensors inside of basements or underground, and still be able to communicate and get data off requires new network technologies that we are launching as part of LTE-M and in the future with narrowband IoT. And so those are very horizontally large investments that our company ismaking.

But then when you get into the solution, as we were talking about earlier, when we’re talking about problems that a retailer faces or a problem that a transportation company faces, if I want to have a connected shelf in the retail store that gives me realtime data from the shelf, now I need think about low cost, low power sensors in that shelf that’s giving me realtime inventory data or demographic data, who’s walking in front or how many people are walking in front of it. Those start to become very vertical solutions. So for an entrance solution we really have to think both horizontally at the infrastructure and platforms layers and then you have to think vertically from a solutions perspective.

Smedley:
From an editor’s perspective, 5G bridges some of the gap that, for instance, as a driver in a car you got that low latency, everything that you want, and all those packets of information that you need for everything that’s happening from your supply chain to all the data that you want to capture to make a decision about everything that’s happening around you, everything that’s happening within that cab or that car, with everything that’s going on to be able to make realtime decisions within split seconds if you needed to. And that’s the difference that we didn’t have.

Khan:
Yeah, so first thing I’ll say about that just like any other technology, the network technology goes through its evolution and we are now at the 5G evolution from our LTE networks. And it has impacts at the packet core layer as well as the air interfaces, the spectrum we use, the devices we use, and so on and so forth. But just from a definition perspective there are three things from an AT&T perspective we think about when we think about 5G.

Number one, obviously you’ve touched on that, is speed. It’s much faster speed, you can download a lot more data. You can run things like visual analytics and not just what the driver is seeing, but what the cameras around the driver are seeing as far as their environment is concerned and so on and so forth. So they can collect massive amounts of data at a much faster speed. Same thing when the driver is at a site and they need to download a video on how to repair something. They’re able to do that in a much faster, much more high definition way at the jobsite. So the speed is definitely one critical element as we move to 5G.

Another element is latency, which means that the time it takes to get information to the cloud and back or to the network and back is significantly reduced. The impact of that is you can have now, with that low latency, several of these what I call remote control kind of applications enabled than you did before. We talk about autonomous driving. We talk about connecting to any of these machines in realtime or making round-trip control system decisions in realtime where the latency is in the tens of milliseconds as opposed to hundreds of milliseconds. So those become enabled, so that’s the second thing, low latency.

The third thing is not a lot of people talk about it, but it’s the massive adoption of IoT. So even though the low-power network technologies that we’re deploying, LTE and narrowband IoT, are lower seed than the 5G. They enable mass adoption of IoT and we consider them part of the 5G infrastructure as we move along. So those are the three things, as we talk to our customers and as your listeners can appreciate, are the three key elements of the 5G network and 5G evolution.

Smedley:
Talk about where 5G is at this point. With the cloud and the edge for business customers. Because that’s the next part of this discussion. You just mentioned driverless cars because that’s very important, everyone’s talking about it, but as I mentioned in segment one, we still have 85% of the consumers fear that a car might not be safe in some ways. That it’s going to do something horrific. But that fear is probably still truly unfounded. So we, as an industry, have to do more to protect them and to educate them, and that’s where we as an industry would do better. But talk where we are with that in just the technology perspective.

Khan:
Yeah. I think many things, but culturally from the rulemaking and technology and infrastructure investment have to come together for truly level four kind of autonomous experience and rollout. So yes, technology has to evolve both in the car as well as in the infrastructure and in the network, but also the rules have to adopt the cultural adaptation of autonomous cars. So the main things have to come together to do that. We are on that journey, and we’re on the journey pretty fast. I think from a pure technical perspective we are there in terms of having the right things in place, but any technology takes a certain amount of rollout time and get acceptance from the larger society and culture. So we’ll go through that cycle ourselves.

But you talked about business application. Beyond autonomous cars there’s a lot of business applications from the faster speed. I’ll touch on a couple of simple ones that we talk about and we’re actually having conversations with our customers about. Visual analytics is one of those things where you can collect video data in realtime and be able to make decisions. For example, if you have a video surveillance or video analytic system that enable keyless entry into location you could have the visuals coming off of a machine or an inventory that allows you to say, okay, I see through a camera inventory’s running low in batch A, batch C, and batch F, and I’m going to go dispatch new inventory because I’m able to do those kinds of 5G combined with some sort of AI (artificial intelligence) system to make those autonomous decisions and be able to be much more productive and efficient in my operations as a manufacturer, for example.

Then there is these remote control applications I was talking about earlier. That is where you are able to control machines while you’re not near the machines. Think about robotic controls where you’re in an environment perhaps where you don’t want the humans to go, let’s say, in an oil field or other places where you need to get a machine to operate a certain way, and you need low latency connections to be able to operate those machines and do certain tasks remotely as an expert, and don’t have to actually physically be there.

Those kind of remote-control applications of machines and systems become available through a 5G solution.

Smedley:
Let’s quickly talk, and I know we’ve only got about five minutes or so. I really want us to talk about the Foundry, because the AT&T Foundry last week is so very important to brainstorming new ideas and how they change companies, and the way they operate businesses.

Khan:
The Foundry, for your listeners, is our innovation centers, there are several of them in the U.S. and one in Israel. They can be focused on specific areas like IoT or verticals like in healthcare, and we have people, equipment, and staff onsite in those locations. We use them in multiple ways for innovation throughout the company and collaboration with our customers.

You visited the Plano Foundry and you probably saw both our IoT-enabled space where we have all kinds of sensors and building sensors and devices and connecting any kind of an asset to start to collect data, to a mini-manufacturing line or a retail shop, store of the future, and so on. Those are not just showcases. Those are actual projects that we are working on and we continue to work on, in collaboration with our customers. Our customers engage with us, and say, “Well, here’s a problem I’m trying to solve.”

We, either with our expertise or even with bringing in partners and ecosystem providers, bring those problems into a project and help solve a problem. It does a few things. Either it proves, “Hey, that’s a great idea, and here’s a way to solve that problem.” And we work in four to six-week agile sprints with them, or we have proved to them this is not a good idea, or it’s too early for its time, or it’s too expensive to implement, and they should not go and invest in that.

Whether it is a success in what we were trying to do or a failure, there’s strong learning for us and for our customers to go implement. Many products, as you said, have come out of the Foundry. We have made them into products that we sell a lot of customers, or customer implementations have come out of it where we have been able to successfully deploy some of these IoT solutions for our customers by doing that innovation through our Foundry.

Smedley:
We’ve talked about the IoT is moving pretty quickly, and in some ways probably not as fast as we want. I talked about some pretty big numbers. Why is it important to continue to innovate? You just talked about the Foundry, but it’s really important when we talk about AI and machine learning, if we’re going to talk quantum as we continue to grow, why is it so important that we get people to continue to see the importance of innovation?

Khan:
If you look at all the different layers you just described, there is the device layer which is the sensors and devices that connect to these assets. There’s the network layer. There’s the platforms that allows us to scale and optimize and normalize data. There’s applications and then there’s analytics and machine learning on top of that. If you look at that five-layer stack, each layer is changing and evolving to support the use cases that we discussed in the last 30 minutes.

It is very important for anybody who is playing in that ecosystem and the customers who are going to consume those solutions to be able to either set up centers of excellence where they learn from the ecosystem, learn from each other, or be involved in innovations themselves, otherwise they will be left behind in this race to adopt IoT in this digital transformation that they’re doing. Their competition will be able to get a leg up. Even for ourselves it is really important for us to keep abreast of the latest and the greatest at every layer, and be able to bring those solutions directly or through our partners to our customers.

Foundries play a pivotal role in having that innovation and be in touch with the ecosystem and be in touch with the latest and the greatest in IoT.

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