Five years ago, NOS board member Manuel Ramalho Eanes banked big on smart homes and smart cities.
When he claimed, back in 2014, NOS would become Portugal's operator of choice it was a bold statement. As a board member responsible for the company's growth, Eanes backed his prediction with research that would help guide the company's future. Today the media holding company's assets include a satellite and cable operator, ISP, mobile phone operator, movie distributor and wireless carrier.
Since NOS was founded via merger in 2014, the then-burgeoning -- now exploding -- market for smart homes and smart cities seemed promising to Eanes, he said. When you consider this sector is forecast today to approach $40 billion in the US alone by 2020, NOS was ahead of its time.
"The operational model of a telco and the vision for 5.0 cities ... means that the synergies created are very relevant and that the experience and know-how of telcos have now become essential for the success of these initiatives" - Manuel Eanes, NOS
Speaking exclusively with Broadband World Forum, Eanes broke down the telco's focus on smart homes and smart cities, and shared his thoughts about how operators and service providers can secure their position in this increasingly competitive space. Following is an edited version of the interview between BBWF's Francesca Greane and Eanes:
Broadband World Forum: When there is much hype and confusion around smart homes and developing smart industry, why does NOS now think it's time to crack the smart cities market?
Manuel Eanes: NOS is actively working on intelligent solutions applied to various sectors, amongst which are obviously smart homes and smart industries. However, given the maturity of the technological ecosystem and the clear benefits that smart-city solutions bring -- both directly and indirectly to the general public -- in NOS's opinion they are one of the focus areas where value can be added with more direct and immediate tangible impacts. In addition, the similarity that exists between the operational model of a telco and the vision for 5.0 cities -- both of which are founded on robust, horizontal platforms capable of connecting millions of sensors, receiving information in real time and taking action on operational infrastructures and equipment -- means that the synergies created are very relevant and that the experience and know-how of telcos have now become essential for the success of these initiatives.
BBWF: Smart Cities appear a tough business case for any Enterprise, let alone a telco to crack. With so many different partners, so many unique localities, and each with its own particular eco-system, many businesses can run into trouble trying to navigate the complex ecosystem. What are you doing differently to achieve success?
ME: From the start, NOS's approach has been to look at the uniqueness of each city and its eco-systems as a source of richness for this type of project. In contrast to other types of player, perhaps having a global scale and a more standardized vision, we believe that the local ecosystem is often the key to success and that one should start from the tangible reality of each city to achieve the best technology, instead of starting from the technology and trying to shoehorn it into different contexts. In this respect, our entire value proposal is based on open platforms, capable of harnessing what is already happening in each city and integrating its own eco-systems through robust and scalable assets but which are also flexible and adjustable.
BBWF: With that in mind, how does 5G change the playing field?
ME: The resilience, capacity and speed of 5G radically changes the paradigm by driving and scaling up a range of already known use cases. Alongside this, it also unlocks new concepts which up until now were not technologically possible. 4K video, with high capacity and reduced latency, with the potential for edge analytics processing, is one example of these new concepts and which can support a range of disruptive services for citizens and municipal operations.
In the near future, 5G will be the enabler to make intelligent cities into super intelligent societies. But the future that we are striving for can be created now and that is why NOS is already working to build this path by making Portuguese cities, with the support of our benchmark partners, more secure, efficient, sustainable, competitive and closer to people: cities that are ready for 5G.
BBWF: What other technologies do you think are going to become front runners when it comes to smart homes, e.g., AI and data analytics, for example?
ME: Such as is the case for smart cities, other areas of high potential for disruptive innovation are based on the ability to find, process and act upon high volumes of data coming from various sources and received in multiple formats. 5G brings the means to provide and transmit it. But, all the technologies associated with its capture (micro sensors, voice recognition, intelligent speakers, etc.), processing (AI, Data Analytics, etc.) and security and reliability (cybersecurity, block chain, etc.) will, without question, be key factors in the innovation that is already taking place.
BBWF: Municipal budgets tend to be slim and require lengthy processes to get projects off the ground. How are you engaging local authorities to enact your smart city vision?
ME: This is in fact a highly relevant element, and something which sometimes delays the implementation of smart city projects. To support city councils and overcome these barriers, NOS helps councils build a medium to long term plan in which they prioritize the solutions that have a positive impact on the council’s finances, either by reducing costs or by increasing revenue, and which in a second stage can finance other areas with other kinds of benefit. In addition, there are various central government funds for administrative modernization which can be tapped into by councils, and NOS is also available to support these applications in conjunction with the cities involved.
BBWF: Apart from local government, who are your most important partners in any smart city solution?
ME: The ecosystem of smart city initiatives should be as rich and diverse as possible, and it is obviously essential to have technological partners with a high level of know-how in each of the specific areas of operational management (such as irrigation, public street lighting). However, the involvement of startups is also key, as they can bring disruptive value proposals, as well as the academic world which brings with it the ability to support cities in more complex analyses, which can support long term structural measures.
BBWF: What is your key advice to telcos struggling with their smart city strategy?
ME: To build a distinctive value proposal, leveraged by their internal capabilities, that may also be distinctive, and to take advantage of their ability to deliver, making visible and palpable projects a reality.
BBWF: Finally, what would be your call to action for the industry? Is there something industry can collaborate on to increase the deployment rate of smart city solutions?
ME: My call to action would be to increasingly support its developments in shared and open rationales, making data available and integrating layers of other partners of the ecosystem, aligning with the main standards and harmonization of theories. In addition, think global but ensure a modular approach that can provide the flexibility that the reality of each situation demands.
Still have questions about next-generation networks and the future of their security? Get your
free visitor ticket to Broadband World Forum (15-17 October 2019, Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and hear from Manuel Eanes, and numerous other industry experts as they tackle the opportunities and challenges that are dominating the broadband security conversation today.
— Francesca Greane, Marketing, Content and Community Lead, Informa Tech, for Broadband World News.