Friday, 6 January 2012

Verizon Wireless's buy out of Qualcomm's stake in nPhase was necessary

In the UK we have a saying: "like painting the Forth Bridge". Other countries may have similar sayings. It means to be engaged in a piece of unending work. Once you think you're done you have to start again at the other end. I'm currently engaged in such a piece of work, our M2M CSP Benchmarking Report. It'll be out in the next week or so, presenting our views on who's best placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by M2M. Click here for more details on the report. The problem is that stuff keeps changing, and thus changing our view on the market. The latest development was Verizon Wireless (one of the CSPs profiled) buying out Qualcomm's share of their 50/50 joint venture nPhase.

The nPhase platform, in all its incarnations, has been in existence for 10 years, supporting industrial applications from the likes of ABB and Siemens. In 2006 it was acquired by Qualcomm. In July 2009 Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless formed a joint venture and named it nPhase. In their own words this reboot "was created to leverage Qualcomm’s advanced connectivity technologies and Verizon Wireless’ expertise and simplified device certification process. The joint venture will deliver seamless, fully integrated M2M communication with global connectivity. Key new capabilities will include cloud computing solutions to automate device provisioning, and to track, monitor and manage assets. Custom white label applications for OEM customers, productized applications for end-use markets, new diagnostic tools for monitoring network health and device performance, data aggregation services, back office integrations and other professional services required to deliver whole solutions also will be provided”.

The nPhase connectivity platform is active in three areas: wireless network services (i.e. the usual activities of an M2M platform such as provisioning and management); application services (providing open APIs for 15-20 standard M2M device actions, e.g. wake-up, timings, thresholds, delivery etc which are abstracted out and provided to the customer to make application development very simple); and device performance services (taking advantage of Qualcomm’s device management expertise to optimize remote diagnostics).

So why has Verizon bought nPhase and what are the implications for the wider industry? At least partly, I suspect, because the two partners had slightly different visions for what nPhase could/should be. Qualcomm's focus is clearly global and multi-carrier. As a result they'd want other carriers to be adopting the nPhase platform. In contrast VZW would want to focus nPhase on being the most effective M2M management platform for their operations in the US. They'd want full control over the development roadmap for the platform given what a differentiator it could be. This is also just another manifestation of the vertical integration we're seeing in the industry (e.g. Gemalto acquiring SensorLogic). If, as a CSP, you have scale (as the likes of Verizon, AT&T and Vodafone do) then it's more important to have development control over your platform than it is to try to take advantage of economies of scale from using a multi-carrier platform. With this in mind it'll be interesting to watch how the AT&T/Jasper relationship plays out. It's working well so far, particularly as it's allowing AT&T to export applications to a big footprint of territories.

These are just my first thoughts and we'll be chatting with Steve Pazol and various others over the next few days and getting some insight.

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