Is Comcast an unexpected IoT pioneer ?

Some weeks ago, Comcast announced machineQ™, a project aimed at developing IoT solutions for businesses, including connectivity AND an IoT platform. More precisely, Comcast is testing how it could take advantage of its fixed network, combined with a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology –LoRaWAN- to get its share of the IoT cake. The project is to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2016 in Philadelphia and San Francisco, but could be expanded to 30 US cities in the next 18 to 30 months if the trial is successful. With partners such as Semtech and Actility, the project is certainly off to a good start…

 While Comcast is working on mobile offers and plans to become a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) in 2017, it lacks mobile infrastructure such as masts and cell sites. Such infrastructure may seem essential in regards to developing IoT networks, which can explain why some were surprised by Comcast’s announcement.

But Comcast has other assets that are much more precious for IoT networks:

  • Its fixed network is based on thousands of kilometers of fiber optic and HFC cables, which can be used to aggregate potential gateways. And yes, HFC connections provide enough bandwidth to meet the needs of IoT gateways (for LPWA networks).
  • It is vastly implanted throughout the US. It is even working on developing new ties with integrators (with the Custom Xfinity Integration program, it grants integrators remote access to clients’ set-top boxes), which will surely come in handy to sell IoT BtoB solutions.
  • Even if it is criticized for the quality of its fixed network and the lack of investment in it, it is recognized as a major American telco. Major companies may be reluctant to entrust a start-up to connect their appliances, and more importantly, to collect their data. And this is why Comcast certainly has a card to play.

What’s more, the complexity of developing an IoT solution doesn’t come from the network. At least not for Low Power Wide Area Networks, as the technology allows for better coverage (and penetration) than mobile networks. And the gateways cost at least ten times less than their 4G counterparts. Surely finding locations for the base stations can be complex and will require a certain financial investment, but nothing a partnership can’t solve (utilities, outdoor advertising companies…).

Meanwhile, other companies are also joining the IoT race in the US. Senet has been deploying its LoRaWAN network for months, and now operates in 23 states. Ingenu is working on its RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) network, and plans to cover over 100 major metropolitan areas by the end of 2017. And the latest fundraising from Sigfox will be partly used to finance 30,000 base stations across the US. AT&T and Verizon haven’t given up on the potential new sources of revenue that IoT represents either, and are expected to launch trials based on 3GPP standards (NB-IoT and LTE-M) in early 2017.

All in all, finding its place in the IoT landscape will certainly be challenging for Comcast, but the telco is certainly off to a good start. And more, it shows that fixed broadband operators do have assets that they can leverage to join the IoT race. Recent announcement from other fixed operators, like NBN Co or Dr Peng Group, confirm this trend.

This is why we published the report ‘Entering the IoT market as a broadband operator’, which explores why and how fixed operators can position themselves in the IoT ecosystem, be they national, regional or municipal providers.