Peggy and Emily Lyons Soelberg, vice president, product management, IoT (Internet of Things), AT&T, talk about how everything is getting connected and how the IoT will really change the trajectory of AT&T’s business. She also explains LPWA and who it benefits and NB-IoT vs. LTE-M and what it means for 5G. The two discuss fleets, asset management, machine learning, and why AT&T believes it has a great story around security with the IoT.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, log onto www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 11/26/19 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:
Emily, I’d love for you to share a little bit about your experience because you’ve got a wealth of it, in the industry and your role at AT&T. Let’s start with that.

Emily Lyons Soelberg:
I am responsible for defining, managing, driving distribution of all of our IoT product initiatives, which means I have the really cool job of putting a lot of innovative products and solutions in the hands of our customers and our sellers across channels. That spans everything from keeping an eye on the automotive trends for the future of connected vehicles, looking at IoT for good and sustainability and how AT&T can help companies save money and do good for the environment, looking across those industry verticals and how we can help with segments like manufacturing and how to lower costs, how to do asset tracking, how to manage a variety of things, where does entertainment play in, what are the conductivity enhancements, how can we pave the way with 5G towards an automated future… A whole bunch of very cool things I get to work on. I’ve worked at AT&T for nearly 17 years. I’ve had roles that span from strategy, product management, manage capital and customer contracting, series of things, and before that I was working out in Silicon Valley for startups.

Smedley:
If we say that everything is getting connected, when you think about that, you said it’s truly exciting. How big of a role is the IoT playing in all of these vertical markets and so much more? You must be just so stoked when you think about the opportunities.

Lyons Soelberg:
It’s truly amazing. I’ve had the good fortune over the course of my career working a lot in new technology, new innovations between startups, between AT&T, and roll outs of things like the mobility networks. This has the feel of those game-changing technology capabilities where I think that the IoT will really change the trajectory of our business, of the GDP (gross domestic product) of the entire country. If you look at the potential, there’s so many things where it will both do good and drive value for companies, trillions of dollars, if you look at some of the analyst assessments.

Smedley:
And that’s amazing when you say do good and resiliency and sustainability. We think about what we have in our global idea of that. Let’s dive in a little bit because that’s where I get really excited when we think about what the opportunities are when we look at some of the solutions that you alone work on. So let’s start and get into the weeds of this.

I know we talk about what 5G is going to be. Let’s get into the technology a little bit because I think we’re at a place in time where we need to understand where solutions are going to play. I always want to talk about low-power wide-area, the LPWA and device to cloud platforms because everybody’s trying to understand that. What in all of that does that mean and the benefits to IoT? Because I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of solutions in some areas and then where it’s going to be to the next level as we start doing things with 5G and so much more.

Lyons Soelberg:
I totally agree. I think there’s a ton of potential. If you look, analysts’ reports project that low-power wide-area or LPWA will outpace traditional cellular IoT connections within just a few years. And if you look at what does LPWA mean for customers, there are a couple of different standards that fit within that. So there’s LTE-M which is really LTE for machines and NBIoT, which is narrowband IoT. These are both technologies that are standard space, they operate globally, and they’re on licensed spectrum. It’s got carrier-grade security, it’s got a lot of the benefits that our customers are looking for and it can scale to millions of IoT devices and applications. And as you look at what are some of the benefits with LPWA for customers, it sits in a few areas.

First one that’s very major is its much lower costs. It’s lower cost, both in the module that goes in the device and its lower costs on the network transport. The modules themselves are smaller, so they’re approximately the size of a penny or smaller, which means that they can now address different form factor devices, including wearables. The low power part of it comes from batteries that can extend up to 10 years SIG, which means that there’s a new category of devices that really need to go out into the wild for a number of years that are addressable and there’s coverage extension.

And one of the big benefits that we’re seeing as low power wide area evolves, is that this is now a new technology that we can address with some of the key benefits that cellular brings that make it even easier than some of the alternate technologies that some of these devices that needed, for example, a long battery life we’re using, for example, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth; they can now operate out of the box. You don’t have to rely on your customers to do a manual pairing or to download an app and share the Wi-Fi password. It just works. What we’re seeing is customers who want something with less friction or that they want to be guaranteed to operate, it becomes an attractive alternative. Especially now that the prices are down.

Smedley:
Are the numbers that we’re hearing from out there that we’re talking about 4.1 billion cellular connections on some of this. Are these those kind of numbers? Are those really what we’re going to see or is that pie in the sky?

Lyons Soelberg:
It remains to be seen, but we are seeing rapid growth on these and as you look at the distribution now of connected devices where they fan a bunch of different network technologies based on what the device is looking for. As you make these cellular networks and the benefits that cellular brings with things like security, wide-area, and this auto on, and you start addressing some of these other needs that are coming in with things like longer battery life and smaller form factors and lower cost, then you can see these new technologies can now address a lot more area, a lot more devices. So that’s what I think drives a lot of the growth numbers that we’re hearing.

Smedley:
You mentioned NB-IoT and that improves power consumption. Are we talking about the same thing when we talk about the LPWA? When we’re connecting all of these things, how does that differ from LTE-M, which is actually I guess connecting 4G… Talk to us a little bit about that because people are trying to understand: Where does 4G come in as we make the transition from 4G to 5G?

Lyons Soelberg:
First off, they’re both purpose-built IoT network standards that are part of the 3GPP (which is the standard cellular standards body, they are both parts of that and they’re complimentary. Different operators around the world, they’re deploying different ones. If you look at some use cases and capabilities, LTE-M generally supports a little bit greater throughput, which means that, in terms of things that you can do with it, it supports mobility and it supports voice. And so this is where you end up thinking that’s a good fit for things like alarm panel, wearables, trackers…NB-IoT is a good fit for things that are stationary, things with super low data throughputs. For example, utility meter sensor and in some cases what we’re seeing is customers are interested in deploying multi-mode modules that can enable both in a single device to ensure that they get coverage wherever their device goes around the world.

Smedley:
If I go even further then, will NB-IoT impact, because now we have voice, we know the next generation is going to be voice assisted everything, will NB-IoT really impact 5G from more things that we see with cameras, is that what you’re saying then? Not only from voice, but now as we use cameras, we’re seeing things more visually.

Lyons Soelberg:
Well, we think that LTE-M is going to be the better standard if you’re looking just voice-over LTE, but both LTE-M and NB-IoT are included in the global standards for 5G as part of the massive IoT part of 5G. People often think about the next G, 3G, 4G, 5G was driven around things like high throughput, which that is an important benefit when you think about 5G, but one of the extremely important parts for IoT is that the industry is trying to address the need to support this massive number of IoT devices out there. That is enabled through the LTE-M and NB-IoT network capabilities will see the massive devices. When you look at it, we’re seeing the LPWA is really one of the early ways that our customers are benefiting from the 5G standards.

Smedley:
And what’s so exciting that you just described, is the transition that they can do and we look at the opportunities right now of everything as we started out with this conversation is there’s so many connected devices. We still don’t even know what’s going to be connected from so many verticals that have so many opportunities and so many ways to improve the customer experience.

Lyons Soelberg:
That is absolutely right. We are just at the beginnings of seeing what it is that’s meaningful from solving customer problems and the customer problems are then dictating. Okay, what’s the right device for that? And what’s the right implementation? It’s an open frontier of problems that we think that the IoT can help customers solve.

Smedley:
So if we look at other areas, that is if we look at fleets or asset management and look at all the analytics and machine learning on things, talk to us about that, because I think there’s a lot that we are just starting to really touch on, on what we’re going to be able to do there. What excites you most about all of that and what are you seeing is happening there? And what will continue to happen in the next several years?

Lyons Soelberg:
You’re absolutely right, that’s a very exciting area. If you look, let’s start with asset. We’ve got more than 3,500,000 asset management devices on our network as of the end of third quarter. This is everything from shipping containers, storage tanks, manufacturing equipment, trailers, we’ve got a product that we call the Slap-n-Track, we want it to be as easy as possible for customers. Got an asset, they want to know where it is? Just stick it on there and now you can have an interface where you can track location, monitor, manage everything. And this is really powerful, there’s instant ROI (return-on-investment) if you can now keep track of your assets. And as I mentioned before, we’ve now got new technology capabilities that are enabling lower costs. The ROI for me to track a high value asset was very clear, but I can now take much smaller assets and go not just from the ship, but to the container, not just from the container to the pallet, not just the pallet to the box and the piece of equipment. And now, it’s economical for me to track that.

You start to see this ROI benefit from customers being able to know where their things are. And then that leads into fleet, because as their things are moving around on their fleet vehicles, we’ve got nearly 5 million of those on our network. And we’ve got offers that span from kind of SMB (small and midsize business) market to much higher end massive fleets and everything in between. And as you look at the combination of these, you’ve got your fleet where you can now manage things like driver safety and hours of service and regulatory compliance and fuel management and route optimization. Along with the assets, which may be things in those trucks or vehicles that customers are tracking the fleet, you now get a lot of really valuable data, which then leads into what you mentioned before with artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics.

This is where I think, when you start to look at the potential of the IoT to transform business, this is where GDP changing capabilities come into play, because you have information that you never had before. And if you can take that, where these analytics come into play, it’s fairly easy for customers to deploy a sensor. It’s fairly easy for them to do an asset tracker, but as they evolve from gathering information to generating insights, this is where you need the analytics so that you can take massive amounts of data and really give customers the “So what?” of that. I have a lot of data, but what does it mean for me? And then how do you work with customers to integrate that into enterprise systems. They may have a scale, cloud systems and really transform the business operation. That’s where we start to unlock the trillions of dollars of value for companies. It’s really taking information to insights and to actions.

Smedley:
It’s almost like we’ve taken this track and trace to prescriptive analytics versus any kind of reactive kind of way of looking at it. And now we almost have this machine learning AI algorithm that is changing everything that you’ve just described in ways that we can do things better, faster, quicker than ever before with all this information.

Lyons Soelberg:
Absolutely. If you take the fleet example, you can look at what causes failures in my vehicles and a lot of the time it can be electrical system. Companies will proactively replace batteries because of cost of downtime in their fleets. But now they can do that when the battery actually needs to be serviced. And if you look at, in the manufacturing world, the cost of uptime or downtime in a factory when a factory floor shuts down, customers start to measure the impact of that. It tends to be in the millions of dollars in seconds to minutes. And so if you can anticipate what the health of your component parts on the manufacturing floor are and preemptively service them that has huge ROI instantly, because if you can increase factory uptime percentages, even by second, it’s very meaningful for customers.

Smedley:
Sometimes with all of this data, there’s so much information that we can change people’s lives and businesses as you described, and sometimes it’s almost scary. It’s scary to the point because we have so many nefarious characters as I like to say and it’s unfortunate that we have that. We have information and we are connecting so many things today. We have to be so much more aware of threats, right? That’s a part of everything we have to do. When we’re working with all of these things, how do you take security now into consideration? I know that’s at the forefront of AT&T’s mind all the time, is looking at security and making it a top priority. What have you all been doing right now to keep it, when you look at all of these things?

Lyons Soelberg:
Security is critical and you’re right that as the IoT grows into these billions of devices, they will continue to become a target for hackers. We’ve seen IoT security in the news and in security lingo, the threat vector gets bigger so security is increasingly important. As we talk to our customers, it’s routinely the number one thing on their minds as they look at IoT deployments and this is where we think that AT&T has a great story around security with the IoT. We’ve baked it in from the start to the finish.

We advocate and we follow end-to-end multilayered approach. It’s device security, it’s network security, it’s application security, all wrapped with the analytics where threat detection based on patterns in the network behavior can be the first early warning sign that we can give our customers that there’s something that they need to investigate. We’ve got an entire cybersecurity practice at AT&T, we’ve also baked it into our processes. The inherent nature of what we offer via cellular is inherently more secure than a lot of the things that have made the news out there and we continue to work directly with customers. For example, we have a practice that we stood up in our professional services organization just based around how you look at cybersecurity for your business and how you make sure that you’re protected.

Smedley:
You always have to emphasize security, because sometimes I think we hear it so often that somebody being hacked that almost sometimes I think we get a lackadaisical … I hate to think that, I know it’s foremost on the mind of AT&T, but sometimes companies think, “’well we’re doing all that we can do but it’s just never enough because the bad guys are always trying to figure out how to get in and you just always have to make sure you invest the right resources. I was commenting on the first segment that Australian government has just set out its new draft for voluntary code and in January we know that in California its setting out its new standards. I mean we constantly have to keep it foremost (on our mind), correct?

Lyons Soelberg:
That’s right. Security is not a onetime event where you can say that you’re done. As you said, it’s evolving, the hackers out there are always trying to find the next way in. This is where we stay on top of it. We’ve got a practice designed around being one step ahead of the bad guys and we work with our customers as an ongoing evolution to make sure that you stay protected even as market evolve.

Smedley:
I have to ask this because when we think about the IoT, everybody asks, ‘“Well where do we start?” We got to start small and then we go to the next project. But what’s your steps to getting into the IoT?

Lyons Soelberg:
Well, we have a lot of ways that we work with customers to get started. We have a lot of things that we work with in, what we call an “IoT made easy” approach. But one of the really great first places is working with the AT&T IoT Professional Services Team. We’ve got practices where we can help you get started. For example, a lot of our customers are really interested in 5G and what does 5G mean for me? What does it mean for my business? How could I take advantage of it? How do I not get left behind as my competitors do? We’ll sit down with customers on a one day workshop and just start introducing them to the technology and talking to them about specific business problems and how 5G could help them. We’ve got a variety of practices that span different industries and segments, but really we’re interested in working directly with customers. We’ve got a lot of experience being the market leader, so with that, we have knowledge of what has worked well for others and we can bring that knowledge to customers.

Smedley:
Some industries have had more success or jumped into the IoT faster than others. Do you see some industry starting to leapfrog other industries, understanding the IoT and saying, “Look, we’re really starting to get momentum behind what IoT can do.?”

Lyons Soelberg:
We’ve got over a million devices in nine different vertical industry segments. One of the amazing things about the IoT is that there are so many different use cases that we’re seeing it apply very broadly to just about every business out there.

Smedley:
So no one industry should be afraid anymore. It’s one thing to say, “I want to sit on the sidelines and see who has success.” At this point, any industry should be getting in. Nobody should say, “I should take a wait and see.” IoT, if you’re not doing it, you’re going to be left behind. It is that time to jump in and start doing it or you’re going to be out of business is basically really what’s happening right now.

Lyons Soelberg:
That’s right. We see a lot of these conversations that are starting with the CEO or the Chief Strategy Officer where they’re seeing the disruptive both benefits, but threats where, if you’re not taking advantage of what these new technologies can bring, you risk falling behind. It’s really something that you can’t wait too long or your competitors will be a step ahead of you.

Smedley:
Emily, I have to ask this because we’re heading into 2020 and in 2017 you were named a woman of M2M/IoT. M2M, everyone’s like, well, what was M2M? Machine-to-machine, you and I’ve been in this and understand it. We have to empower more women into this space who want to be in the IoT and in tech in general, how do we do that? How do we keep that next generation to want to be in this space?

Lyons Soelberg:
Right. Well first, thank you for that honor.

Smedley:
You deserve it.

Lyons Soelberg:
I do appreciate that. And it is a passion of mine to make sure that women are given opportunities for leadership, not just in technology but overall. But with technology in particular, I think there are a lot of things that we need to make sure that we’re doing both for women, for managers of women, for companies in general. Great news for AT&T: I have a lot of great women in technology leadership as role models, so that’s been one fantastic thing for me. I have read a lot of the industry literature, whether it’s lean in or people talking about confidence gap. And even though I know it, there are times I feel myself falling victim to it. One piece of advice for women is we have to be aware of things like the confidence gap and to make sure that we are over-indexing on compensating for it.

For example, don’t close yourself off from opportunities just because you don’t think that you’re 100% qualified. Raise your hand, be sure to be raising your hand in meetings, and it can be intimidating if you’re the only woman in a room and as a manager or as other leaders. Being aware of how intimidating that can be for women and making sure that you’re creating opportunities for women to be heard, for women to speak up. One of the things that I do, as a leader, I do a couple of things.

One of them is, as I have vendors who come into me and if they bring a team of only men, I prompt them and ask, “Where are the women? Where are your leaders who are showing that you are walking the walk and promoting women leaders in your organization?” One of the things that I do is I prioritize funding for contractors when women are out on maternity leave. I don’t want a woman in my organization to feel like she can’t raise her hand for a long-term project and I don’t want any manager to feel like they can’t give women projects that might have a long lead time because they’re worried about the coverage during the maternity leave. These are just a few examples of things that I recommend, that I advocate for the women themselves, for others in the room with women and for leaders of organizations.

Smedley:
When we look at the next generation in general and we look at innovation and inspiring, how do we go about doing that? Because that’s what’s going to change our world. When we think about resiliency, we think about sustainability. How do we inspire just the next generation to feel like they should contribute and we can keep evolving and doing the next great thing, because that involves both men and women?

Lyons Soelberg:
I’m really encouraged as I look at the generation of leaders behind me, including my daughter who’s just a teenager. They’re fearless. They’re powerful. They’re inheriting the platform that we’re giving them, and they’re taking it, and running with it. I think just giving them the ability to go do as much as they can do and we’ll see it bear fruit.