AT&T, Apple, Google and more: Companies to watch in the Internet of Things

By Monica Alleven

Any way you slice it, the Internet of Things (IoT) represents huge opportunities for companies that get it right. Cisco projects that the Internet of Everything--which it defines as the networked connection of people, processes, data and things--will generate $19 trillion in value between 2013 and 2022.

Given the colossal nature of the Internet of Things and activity buzzing around the industry, FierceWirelessTech decided to take a closer look at some of the companies making the biggest waves, querying a handful of industry analysts for their take on which ones to watch in 2015. While it's by no means a scientific survey, this report provides a glimpse into the position of some of the biggest household names in the IoT space--as well as some not-so-well-known upstarts.

Will Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) continue to vie for the connected home, or will someone else emerge triumphant? How well positioned is AT&T (NYSE: T) to grab market share? Can Cisco conquer the world with its Internet of Everything analytics? These are just a few of the burning questions driving the IoT space as it marches into 2015.

Apple, Google, Samsung and others: Rallying for the home

While the Internet of Things includes a lot of "things," one place of particularly fierce competition is in the good old abode.

Today, hundreds of things can be connected in the home, from garage door openers to thermostats to light bulbs. For example, home improvement store Lowe's launched its Iris smart home offering in 2012 as a simple and affordable do-it-yourself smart home solution; it now has more than 50 devices on the market for Iris, which also supports Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave-enabled devices. Similarly, Home Depot sells hundreds of smart-home gadgets, including those with software developed by Wink, a company spun off from New York start-up Quirky.

These products typically are controlled though a mobile app. But while it's OK to have a mobile app for, say, the car, the popular sentiment is consumers are not going to want a mobile app for every single thing in their house. "You want a command center" where all these things are connected, as opposed to separate apps, said Gartner analyst Hung LeHong.

The big question is: Which company is going to provide that control center? It could be Google, Apple  or someone else, like Samsung Electronics, which bought home automation platform provider SmartThings this year for an estimated $200 million.

It also could be AT&T, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) or another entity that wins the space. "The point is that who will win this mindshare--this battle for being the command center in the home--whoever wins that, of course, it's a big deal. It's actually a space to watch," as opposed to a single company to watch, LeHong said.

That said, two of the biggest players in this space are Apple and Google. Apple introduced its HomeKit offering in June; it's designed to deliver a common protocol, secure pairing and the ability to control individual or groups of devices throughout the house--and it's tied to Apple's Siri. Thus, if a user tells Siri she's "going to bed," for example, the system could dim the lights, lock the doors, close the garage door and set the thermostat.


Source: Apple

HomeKit products are expected to widely hit the market next year, LeHong said. And, as with most if its products, Apple is expected to retain a tight grip on the entire environment to make sure the user experience is top-notch. However, that attention to detail could slow the development of HomeKit and may affect Apple's progress in becoming the command center of choice.

Winners in the smart home space could have significant influence in other markets. For example, if GE's home appliances are not controlled by its own app but by an iOS portal, that could lessen GE's influence over its customers. Similarly, if Procter & Gamble wants to know which households in a given neighborhood run its dishwashers at a certain time, it might have to turn to another company like Apple or Google to get that information. The implications are huge, "but nobody knows who's going to win that," LeHong said.

Google gets more than one piece of the pie

Google dominates so much of the online world, why wouldn't it go after the IoT in a big way? Somehow the Internet search giant has managed to wind itself into many different IoT spaces and places. It's into everything from Google Glass eyewear to self-driving cars. It kicked off this year with the acquisition of Nest Labs, which is a founding member of the Thread Group.

"Google is clearly a mover and a shaker, and if you think about Nest Labs, what they could potentially do with that to create a new market for customers in the home and for advertisers" is worth watching, said John Byrne, directing analyst, M2M and IoT, at Infonetics Research. It's part of the same market that Lowe's and Home Depot are going after, and that market is "sort of the Wild West," he said.

While some of Google's IoT goals may seem kind of "out there," the company has shown that it can make progress on such moonshots. For example, Google recently revealed it expects its first Project Loon customers by 2016.

AT&T: Cars, homes and even pets

It's hard to ignore the progress that AT&T had made when it comes to the IoT. Headed by Glenn Lurie, the company's IoT initiative has come a long way in just the past few years. Lurie, who helped negotiate AT&T's iPhone exclusively back in 2007 and has since been promoted to AT&T Mobility president and CEO, was instrumental in steering AT&T's emerging devices division. From the connected home to the car--and objects that might fall in between, like the connected dog collar--AT&T is covering the IoT on several fronts.

AT&T boasts a strong organization, solid solution offerings and a "deep understanding about bringing IT-based solutions into the operational technology (OT)  organizations of enterprises," said Steve Hilton, president and co-founder of MachNation, which recently released its scorecards for the IoT application platform and next-generation IoT carriers.

One of the more striking examples of its initiatives is the AT&T Drive Studio in Atlanta, which features working garage bays, a speech lab, a full showroom and more.


Source: AT&T

The carrier's Foundry Innovation Center, also based in Atlanta, serves as the home for Digital Life, the company's home automation and security service, as well as its connected car, emerging devices and U-verse businesses. Cisco is the host sponsor of the facility. AT&T also has a foundry in Plano, Texas, that focuses on M2M technology.

AT&T has inked several deals with carmakers, and it developed a global GSM-based SIM card that can be programmed remotely to change for different networks around the world. On the other end of the IoT spectrum, AT&T partnered with Apishere to create a connected location-smart dog collar that tracks pets.

Cisco aims to bridge the gap

When it comes to the IoT, Cisco has a "tremendous focus on ecosystem development, investments and innovation," Hilton said.

Cisco has been making a push into the IoT for years, but it has been turning up the volume on its messaging lately. Cisco CEO and Chairman John Chambers devoted his keynote at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to the Internet of Everything, something he said will transform countries and industries. "Think $19 trillion," Chambers said, adding that it's a figure that gets the attention of CEOs and governments.

Throughout 2014, the company repeated its manta about the significance of the Internet of Everything, and it's seemingly involved in every corner of the globe, from smart cities to telepsychiatry and real-time analytics. It has global innovation centers underway in cities like Barcelona, Spain, where it's bringing public and private companies together to better understand how to generate value from the Internet of Everything.

"They're doing a lot of things right, capturing a lot of mindshare, focusing on what they call the Fog computing platform," which is essentially about distributed intelligence, Byrne said.

GE shines the lights on IoT

Speaking of trillions of dollars, GE monitors and analyzes 50 million data elements from 10 million sensors on $1 trillion of managed assets daily. In October, it announced that its Predix software platform that powers the industrial Internet will be made available to any company in 2015, allowing them to create and deploy their own customized industry apps to better manage their assets.

But while GE is big into the concept of the industrial Internet, that's not all it's doing. GE and Quirky joined forces last April in a partnership to develop a line of co-branded connected products. In November, they unveiled seven connected products--ranging from light switches to security sensors--that are now available on Wink.com.

Intel throws a Hail Mary

Intel might not have made the IoT movers and shakers list if not for a move late this year. Earlier this month, the company unveiled its new Intel IoT Platform aimed at serving as an end-to-end reference model to unify and simplify connectivity and security for the IoT. It helps that the company also is bringing an impressive list of partners to the table--that can be just as important as the platform itself. It's one thing to have a platform and another to have the partners that will go out there to promote it, Byrne said.

Intel's partners include Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capgemini, Dell, HCL, NTT DATA, SAP, Tata Consultancy and Wipro, which are all collaborating to develop and deploy solutions on the Intel IoT Platform.

Wait… There's more

Call them wild cards, if you will, but analysts queried for this article point to other important, smaller players that are worth a look.

Carrie MacGillivray, vice president of IoT, mobile service & infrastructure, at IDC singles out Splunk, which intelligently analyzes machine data and turns it into useful information, and BugLabs, the software firm behind a number of connected devices, as movers and shakers to watch in 2015. The German multinational software corporation SAP is also on her list, and, "for extra," Vodafone.

LeHong points to the Kaiser Permanente healthcare institution as a prime example of a company that has been aggressively deploying IoT devices. Kaiser has made the rather bold claim that in some geographic regions, more than 50 percent of its healthcare visits are virtual, meaning they're being done remotely using all kinds of technology, including IoT, he said.

In the M2M service provider category, Kore Wireless, which announced in November it will buy RacoWireless, is another one to watch as it enables application development. PTC's acquisition of cloud sensor pioneer Axeda and IoT platform provider ThingWorx make it worth a look too.

Then there's Germany's Cumulocity, which scores points for its cross-industry IoT platform technology and developer network. Electric Imp, another IoT platform company, offers "good technology" and a novel approach to the market, Hilton said.

Those are some of the companies expected to make waves in the coming year. But as with any nascent market, 2015 is bound to contain some surprises in the IoT too.

AT&T, Apple, Google and more: Companies to watch in the Internet of Things
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