Sprint recently announced investment in and plans to build its Curiosity IoT platform, which will be available commercially at the end of 2018. Curiosity IoT comprises two major components: Core (IoT network) and OS (operating system). Sprint named Ericsson as the strategic partner. Sprint Business has been developing its plan to get more aggressive in the enterprise IoT market since late last year, and Curiosity IoT demonstrates the commitment behind its intentions. Sprint's spectrum is a major asset that now can be leveraged for IoT more effectively as part of this new software-based network and systems platform, powered by Ericsson software. The distributed network architecture, software-centric IoT platform, and use of common off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware are just the beginning of how Curiosity IoT may challenge other US IoT players and engage with rest-of-world service and solutions providers. Distributed computing and openness designed from the ground up are the key differentiating attributes of the Curiosity IoT offering. Sprint needs to make this type of investment to get serious about its IoT enterprise game.
Sprint's software-centric approach to creating its IoT network, combined with its OS, will be a departure from most mobile network operators that are transforming their traditional mobile networks to become more software based. Curiosity IoT will be built from the ground up using a distributed compute architecture that will give its customers more intelligence and compute capabilities closer to the edge and where data is being generated. This new architecture should allow for almost total virtualization of network functions across the network, without any of the constraints of legacy mobile infrastructure.
Routing and data filtering can be done at the very edge of the network, obviating the need to collect and store large amounts of IoT data or to bear the cost and delay associated with sending large amounts of IoT traffic across the network to central locations, which is the approach of traditional mobile networks. Sprint's customers will be able to filter, consolidate, and send their data where it makes the most sense, and eliminate transport of data that may not be required. Openness across its distributed platform will also be a key element of Curiosity IoT and will be particularly important as an enabler for more flexible IoT business models. The ability to collect and parse data closer to the edge is just one potentially attractive example. Ecosystem partners on Curiosity IoT will be able to design more elaborate business models than are feasible on traditional mobile networks. Sprint will need to demonstrate to its customers, partners, channels, MVNOs, and ecosystem the advantages of this approach and why it matters to the planned IoT applications.
The deployment and execution of this approach does have some risks, but Sprint's partnership with Ericsson should help increase its chances for success. Ericsson, as a global mobile infrastructure vendor, does provide some risk mitigation given its broad mobile experience and knowledge, combined with the ability to provide robust program management for this project. Like all large systems projects, this approach will have some challenges. Many new elements and technologies (hardware and software) are being deployed, and the software-centric architecture will require thorough testing and fine-tuning to deliver on the promises of its unique distributed and open design.
Even with the T-Mobile merger pending, Sprint remains a distant third-place player in IoT, but this aggressive approach should give it some differentiation and capabilities beyond others. Sprint will have some convincing to do once this platform is developed, but again, Ericsson provides a major lift in the overall effort.
IoT Service Provider Contract Tracker: 3Q18, IOT003-000013 (September 2018)
IoT Service Provider Strategy Profile: AT&T, IOT003-000012 (September 2018)
"Sprint should aim for swift 5G deployment while awaiting approval of T-Mobile merger," GLB007-000106 (July 2018)
Mike Sapien, Chief Analyst, Enterprise Services