Cable and Satellite Companies Pushing into IoT: Can They Win Against Mobile Operators?

K. Weldon
K. Weldon

Summary Bullets:

  • U.S. cable operators and satellite TV providers have been entering the IoT market over the past two years, selling smart home and wearable solutions to consumers, as well as B2B offerings to businesses.
  • Cox Communications, Comcast, and Dish Networks are actively providing B2B IoT services already or have plans in place to do so.

How Do Cablecos Deliver IoT Services?

Cablecos and satellite TV providers differ fundamentally from mobile operators because they don’t actually own spectrum or licensed wireless networks. But, they have other ‘cards up their sleeves’ which give them a route to market.

While cable companies provide consumer wireless services through MNVO relationships with mobile operators, they needed a different strategy for offering mobile IoT services to businesses. LoRa technology, one of the most widely used unlicensed LPWAN types, can be inexpensively set up (e.g., by Comcast) through deployment of gateways from its WiFi access points. Rather than build a separate network, Cox is remaining network-agnostic, bundling solutions that include whatever connectivity makes sense for the use case, including buying/aggregating cellular connections from various operators and bundling it with sensor hardware and device management.

Dish is being a bit more aggressive, with plans to build out its own NB-IoT network after gaining spectrum assets in public auctions, and spending billions of dollars to do so. However, while the IoT ‘add-on’ is a natural fit for the cablecos, as they have growing SMB customer bases and existing assets like WiFi APs for IoT, Dish doesn’t sell to the enterprise, does not have nearly as many existing assets from which to build, and is planning a greenfield build in a market with a very unclear business model.

What Are They Offering?

Comcast set up shop with its MachineQ LoRa-based offering in 2017. It is available in 15 U.S. cities, and Comcast announced three key partners last summer: Trimble Water (for water management), Flashnet (for smart street lights), and Globe Tracker (for supply chain tracking). More recently, it announced five reference customers with use cases ranging from tracking to wearables, water meter reading, building management, and pest control. Cox launched Cox2M in March 2018 with a service focused on asset management solutions for multiple industries, including 500,000 connections for cars to be auctioned in its own Manheim Auto Auctions business.

To Whom Do They Sell?

Comcast and Cox have long sold business services of all kinds to small and medium businesses in their franchise areas. They provide competition to large CSPs such as AT&T and Verizon for wireline services such as broadband and Ethernet transport, but without their own wireless networks, they have not done much other than resell wireless plans and devices to tap the enterprise mobility market. With IoT services, however, they have a new set of solutions to upsell to their installed base of SMBs, and may even further upset the incumbent mobile operators by drawing new business customers looking for cost-effective IoT solutions.

It’s still early days for these alternative IoT providers, but so far, it looks like they will ultimately gain a share of what is anticipated to be a ‘massive’ opportunity for connecting devices, products, and services to help businesses improve products and processes and generate incremental revenues. In the short term, however, U.S. IoT revenues for the mobile operators are not massive at all, with even the top operators only generating about $1 billion a year apiece, including both connectivity and enhanced services such as consulting, professional services, dashboards, applications, analytics, and managed services. Perhaps the cablecos and satellite providers can find a new angle with which to push the revenue boundary.

What do you think?

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