In our era of ubiquitous connectivity, smart devices aren’t just a fun and quirky gadget for consumers — they’re the building blocks of more nimble and efficient businesses.
That’s the bet that Telus is making with its new Internet of Things (IoT) Marketplace, a new open-access online store where retailers, shipping companies and manufacturers can sign up for smart device solutions like connected digital signage, in-store traffic pattern analysis or GPS asset tracking. The company estimates there will be 114 million connected device units in Canada by 2018, representing a $21-billion investment by Canadian businesses.
Most of the 38 currently available solutions focus on logistics and store operations, but Telus said over the next two years it hopes to make Marketplace the central hub for IoT business solutions in 80 or more verticals, including marketing.
Sachin Mahajan, Telus director of M2M (machine-to-machine), works with nearly 30 staff in the IoT division. He said as Telus continues to invest heavily in the field, it’s looking for technologies that can improve the way marketers and retailers communicate with shoppers while they’re in stores.
“How do we affect customers’ decision making paradigm in those two seconds when they’re going to make the decision standing in an aisle?” he said. “Pushing out mobile coupons, pushing out real-time deals based on the inventory the retailer has, those are some of the solutions we’re talking to our partners about.”
The technology powering Telus’ products mostly comes from tech partners like IBM, Cisco and Accenture. Telus integrates the tech with its own backend systems and national 4G network, and offers it to clients as a service. In some cases, clients lease hardware from Telus — a big plus for retailers that want to experiment without heavily committing up front.
Mobile beacons are a big opportunity within the IoT space, and Mahajan said it’s looking to work with partners that offer beacons or other in-store sensor devices. One of the solutions in IoT Marketplace, designed by Think Wireless, uses special video cameras to track shopper foot-traffic, and report on their dwell times with heat maps.
Another attractive solution for consumer-facing businesses is wireless failover protection, which switches payment devices to Telus’ 4G network if the store’s network goes down. It’s a line of defense against credit and debit outages, so restaurants and stores don’t have to worry about telling customers they can only pay in cash.
Other solutions help store managers monitor how effectively stoves or fridges are working, to prevent food spoiling. Another provides network-based controls for signage, so stores, and even chains, can update prices on the go. Though it hasn’t been realized yet, Telus’ partners like IBM and Oracle are able to crunch price data and determine optimum prices in real-time, which when paired with networked signage could automate much of the pricing process.
Mahajan said we can expect several more marketing and retail solutions, including beacon-based mobile communications networks, to be available in Telus’ Marketplace within the next six months to 18 months.
But Telus IoT isn’t strictly limited to B2B, he said. Though the Marketplace is strictly for business solutions, Telus’ IoT department is also designing B2C products that will be available through its online store and physical locations.
“Personally, what I find most interesting is the connected car, where safety, security, diagnostics, entertainment, they all become relevant,” he said. “Now I’m not trying to Google map where traffic patterns are bad, I have it on my screen, and it’s projected onto my windshield in real-time.”
He added that a few years from now, customers will walk into a Telus store, and instead of a banner for an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, the first thing they’ll see is an IoT demo. “You walk into a connected home, or a connected hospital, or a connected car, and then you make your way down the aisle to where the smartphones are. We want people to see the value of these connected products, and actually feel it and absorb it.”