Marc Overton: Large companies can deal with us and we can
deliver the whole of the US and Europe on one contract
Everything Everywhere is the bizarre name for the joint venture of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom’s UK mobile joint venture, but the company is already looking out beyond British shores.
It’s the emerging market for machine-to-machine communications that is making Marc Overton, wholesale chief at EE, excited. Machine-to-machine — or M2M as it is unfortunately abbreviated — is being touted as a potentially vast new market for the mobile industry, and Everything Everywhere wants a part of it.
And, while vending machines, electricity meters and car parks are inherently static, much of the M2M industry will be built on the need to track or communicate with movable items, from containers on board ship and hire cars being driven around Germany to valuable packages that are being couriered from Los Angeles to London.
But Everything Everywhere, set up in July 2010, is surely limited to selling mobile services in the UK. What is it doing in the global machine-to-machine business?
“We’re a one-stop shop,” says Overton, who is vice president of M2M as well as wholesale at the company. EE’s joint ownership means it has close relationships will all the members of the France Telecom Orange empire — from the Caribbean to the Middle East via Africa — and all the members of the Deutsche Telekom empire, from T-Mobile USA to eastern Europe.
“We are a credible international player and a credible alternative to Vodafone,” he says. “We can leverage our communications footprints.”
Overton is particularly looking at US companies that are looking for a single international partner to deal with in order to handle global roaming of M2M services. “Large companies want to break into Europe, but they don’t want to have to negotiate contracts in 23 countries. They can deal with us and we can deliver the whole of the US and Europe on one contract.”
EE has already announced the first alliances to take it into the market. In October it announced a partnership with a US group, Raco Wireless, aimed at allowing Raco’s customers to have access to European networks through its owners’ networks for M2M applications.
EE formalised a service alliance with France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom for the deal, to guarantee its M2M customers — including Raco Wireless customers — network access and high standards of service right across Europe.
“Our ambition to become the partner of choice in the M2M space is underlined by our international partnership with Raco Wireless and the addition of T-Mobile and France Telecom’s service alliance,” says Overton. “By working in partnership we are able to provide businesses with a one stop shop for international M2M capabilities.”
The partnership builds on an existing long-term relationship between T-Mobile USA and Raco Wireless, and will allow Raco and EE to offer their customers a one-stop shop for connectivity solutions in the US, UK and continental European markets.
Raco’s business focuses on energy and utilities, says Overton. “We’re looking for similar agreements in South America and Asia, building into an international partnership network. Everything Everywhere has this international opportunity because of our shareholders and our international position.”
But there is also an opportunity at domestic level, he notes, in smart metering. “Energy utilities will deliver the big numbers, driven by the green agenda.” Overton notes that the first requests for proposals are already coming into EE’s offices, “and there are a lot more out there”.
What, though, is the attraction of a company such as EE in what appears to be a static solution? The answer is coverage. If the SIM inside a smart module in an electricity meter is locked to one local carrier, then coverage may be patchy.
International agreements from the earliest days of the GSM industry come to the rescue here. Any traveller knows that their mobile phone will lock on to the preferred partner of choice in a new country: so a Vodafone UK customer will find their phone preferentially selecting SFR once across the French border.
But dip out of SFR’s coverage, even in a hotel lift for a few seconds, and the phone will look for the strongest alternative — so when the lift doors open the coverage may be provided through Orange France or Bouygues.
Utility companies have spotted this feature of the GSM industry in trying to get as close to 100% coverage as possible. “A lot of utilities are looking for international SIMs that roam,” says Overton. The idea is that the M2M module will not be locked to one national carrier, but will find the best available signal. So EE, through its international partnerships, could provide a SIM from a foreign network, able to use the strongest available signal for its data.
The machine-to-machine market is highly diverse, with many different characteristics, he points out. Even static applications vary hugely, from an electricity meter that may send bursts of data a few times a day to a water meter beside a reservoir that may need to transmit only twice a year.
“But there are also closed-circuit TV cameras,” says Overton. They need to be transmitting almost continuously.
The market includes critical applications, where M2M modules are needed to warn of life-threatening events. “These have different resilience requirements,” he says.
And then there are tracking systems, used for high value goods — or even organs for transplant — or, for example, to keep an eye on people with Alzheimer’s. “We can geo-tag their shoes. The modules are charged up overnight.”
Expensive construction equipment is an obvious target market, he adds. They are worth hundreds of thousands, and yet are mobile — and may be left overnight on roadsides or construction sites. Their owners need to track them when they go out on a job, and need to know where they are. “We’re looking at a solution with one SIM card,” he says.
But there are less obvious markets for M2M systems: photocopiers, suggests Overton: not just to track them if they are stolen, but to send back useful information, such as the fact that they’re about to run out of toner. “A real-time connection with the customer means quite a lot.”
Supply chain inefficiencies
And there are real opportunities, says Overton, in “making money from the inefficiencies of the supply chain”. He’s thinking of containers, equipment, food and other goods sitting on docksides and in airports waiting for a haulage company to come and collect them. “People make money from renting out space” so goods can be stored, he notes.
Delays lead to oversupply and other waste, he notes. “Who benefits?” Smooth out the inefficiencies with the aid of tracking systems and the cost of transport and storage can be reduced, is his argument.
Overton’s aim is to create new markets for the mobile industry in the new era when voice revenues have flattened out. “I’m looking for new money in these new vertical markets,” he says.
The market is being eased by the introduction of such innovations as the VQFN8 standard for SIMs — just two millimetres square. Such SIMS will be fitted almost routinely to consumer electronics items. “Connecting will become standard,” he says.
In preparation for this day, Everything Everywhere has launched a new M2M management platform, developed in association with Transatel, a French mobile virtual network aggregator. “Transatel has taken the capability of the phone platform and built onto it a bespoke M2M capability to enable an international proposition for the connected market,” says Overton.
The new platform has been designed to allow business customers to manage their accounts and connections securely wherever they are, he adds. “The launch of the M2M management platform is a key step in our ambition to become the number one partner of choice for M2M services. Companies of all sizes are asking for solutions that are easy to deploy, with a self service platform that puts the control back into their hands.”
James Bond modules
Such innovations mean that the cost of tracking modules is coming down, he says. The company is using a box that has the new tiny SIMs “with battery, GSM, 3G, beacon and GPS in something the size of a matchbox”. It has a magnet so that it can be stuck on the side of containers, and the battery has enough energy to power four polls a day for five years, “but you can change the number of polls remotely”. The cost? “We’re quoting $100,” says Overton. “It sounds James Bondish but it’s mainstream.”
Such modules will be “part of the standard for consumer electronics”, he adds, “even TV sets”. The modules will feed back information on “where it is and how it is used”.
But there are other applications that will emerge from the M2M market, he adds. “You’ll be able to defrost your car, while sitting in bed on a cold morning, using your iPhone. And warm the seats. That’s quite neat on a cold morning,” says Overton. “This is all about changing the way people live. It is going to be all around you.”
Some of these projects will be going into pilot phase in the first half of 2012, says Overton. “We will be seeing some broad industry deployments. We are focusing on some key strategic areas, such as multinational container freight. It’s real business now.” GTB
Further reading from Global Telecoms Business:
Everything Everywhere £1.5bn network spend 09 Dec 2011
Everything Everywhere to cut 550 staff 03 Nov 2011
UK networks to use Virgin backhaul 06 Sep 2011
FT and DT will miss benefits unless they merge entirely 22 Jun 2011
BT and Everything Everywhere to trial 4G LTE 26 May 2011
FT and DT to expand cooperation 14 Feb 2011