Are Telcos Missing the Developer Community in M2M and IoT?

Over the last 2 months, I have had the opportunity to attend three M2M events: M2M Summit, M2M World Congress and the ETSI M2M Workshop. All of these events had a significant participation by the big European telcos. In Europe and the US, the telcos are pumping a large amount of money, at least marketing dollars, into the M2M industry.

A lot of speakers at these events were senior people from the telco industry presenting their M2M and IoT strategies.  After hearing enough of these presentations you start to get a feel for their priorities and perspective. One thing you never hear in these presentations is developers, open hardware or open source. The only time any of these were mentioned was when I or someone from Sierra Wireless was presenting.

It was almost as if developers did not exist. One would think the Telcos would have learnt from the smartphone industry where Apple and Google have dominated due to the incredibly successful developer programs. Based on what I have heard that would not seem to be the case.

It feels like the Telcos are stuck in a closed walled garden cathedral-like strategy. They have a strong focus on partner programs which they seem to believe makes them open. Ironically one presenter bragged they had improved their partner program so it now only took weeks to join, not months. They seem to think innovation needs to be under their control so they can show a ROI. The concept of a bazaar where innovation happens everywhere seems to a foreign concept. Given the success of the Google and Apple appstore I find this surprising.

Open source would also appear to still be a ‘scary’ concept. At the ETSI event, one panelist proclaimed [paraphrased] ‘he was worried open source was causing fragmentation in the M2M industry’. In fairness, he was conflating open source with the maker and hacker movement around open hardware but it still shows a lack of appreciation for how developers innovate.

These comments about open source are consistent with my interactions I have had with telcos. Some individuals within these organizations certainly get open source. However, the overall organization still seems to view open source as a scary idea, not a driver for innovation or pervasive adoption of technology.

If Telcos are going to succeed in M2M and IoT they need to embrace developers.  My recommendation to any Telco executive is as follows:

  1. Innovation will happen outside your walled garden. Don’t expect developers to join your partner program. They don’t have the time or money. Imagine having 100,000’s developers active in your community not just 50-100 companies. Learn how to nurture and promote this innovation but don’t expect an ROI on each engagement.
  2. Developers are using open hardware, like Arduino and BeagleBone, to experiment and innovate. You need to support open hardware and include it in your strategy.
  3. Open source software will lower the barriers of adoption for your platform.  Developers love to use open source since they don’t have to ask permission,they can learn from the code and  it is typically great software. The Internet is run on open source software. It is an intricate part of the entire software industry.  Embrace open source, learn how to benefit from it, it is not scary.
  4. If you still don’t understand, read ‘The New Kingmakers’. Developers certainly are the new kingmakers and you are missing out.

As a bonus recommendation, I am speaking at an IoT event that speaks to developers and industry, called Thingmonk. If you really want to understand how innovation is happening in IoT, you need to attend.

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