Podcast: From local mastery to global expansion: The IoT journey with Singtel and Bridge Alliance

Podcast 40

In this Trending Tech Podcast episode, Jim Morrish of Transforma Insights navigates the intricate landscape of IoT connectivity in Asia. Joined by Ignatius Lee from Singtel and Alan Yeo from Bridge Alliance, the trio delves into the challenges and potential of cellular IoT solutions in the region. From Smart Nation initiatives to vision of becoming a global connectivity gateway, the conversation offers a deep dive into the future of IoT in Asia and beyond.

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[00:00:00] Jim Morrish: Hi, and welcome to this episode of the Trending Tech Podcast. It’s brought to you by the team at iot-now.com, vanillaplus.com, and The Evolving Enterprise or theee.ai. For this episode of the podcast, I’m joined by Ignatius Lee, Vice President for Singtel’s Global Business and Alan Yeo, SVP IoT and Enterprise Mobility Services with the Bridge Alliance.

But first, some procedure. A warm welcome to everyone out there. So, thank you for listening in. My name’s Jim Morrish. I’m a co-founder of Transforma Insights, a firm of industry analysts focused on all things related to digital transformation. And today, so today we’re going to focus on all things related to connectivity.

The provision of cellular connectivity for IoT solutions. It’s often one of the most complex and challenging aspects of an IoT project. Devices tend to end up in, you know, in multiple geographies, around the world. And often there’s a lack of an actual user associated with those devices, for, for fault resolution or, or even just to switch things off and on again. So the challenges are, are particularly acute, in fact, in Asia. Because in Asia, the telco environment is relatively fragmented and there’s a patchwork of cellular operators currently covering the territory.

Meanwhile, however, you know, the potential priority in Asia is huge. It’s extremely fast-growing region. So, these problems, I mean, they’re worth solving and it’s great to get the opportunity to hear from, from two organisations and, and two people indeed, that are helping to move this overall market forward.

So, Ignatius and Alan, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you as guests.

[00:01:59] Ignatius Lee: Good morning, Jim. Yeah, it’s a good evening here we are reaching the end of the week actually and Friday evening. Yeah, and how are you? 

[00:02:06] Alan Yeo: TGIF Jim. It’s, good to be here and honoured to be here together with Singtel here.

[00:02:10] Jim Morrish: Great. Thank you again for joining us. What I’m going to do, now is a slight break with, with tradition of, of the approach of these podcasts. I’m going to cut straight to the questions, because it’s a really intriguing topping. So let’s start with the, you know, the main discussion. About how to address some of the complexities of supporting IoT in this fragmented territory.

And what we’ll do is at the end, we’ll circle back and discuss some interesting tech news stories at the end so that segment will feature at the end. So first, Ignatius, could you introduce yourself a little more and tell me a little about Singtel and particularly Singtel’s strengths in IoT.

[00:02:44] Ignatius Lee: Good, Jim. Yeah. So, thank you for inviting us to speak about this. Yeah. So, I’m actually the VP for the Global Business and you know, as part of the global business, which is our B2B arm for Singtel, we connect customers globally and we help them in ways of their B2B, their B2C, or their B2B2C.

So, you know, as a business, we connect our customers on internet, over the submarine cables. But, more recently we are doing, really a lot more on over the mobile network. And that’s where, just now you’re mentioning the IoT, where we see the biggest traction right now.

So, to maybe just give you an idea of what we are doing in the IoT space. Singapore is a really small country, and everything is sort of really connected right now. So one of the drives locally for us is Smart Nation initiatives. So basically, how do we help enable the country, from a technology perspective over the mobile network. And some of the examples that we have will be helping the housing development boss of public housing to implement, solar infra monitoring, for example. We are also helping the nation in terms of the tolling systems for the cars.

And we call that the ERP tool. And that will, that’s yet to be launched. It’s going to be launched next, and it’s going to leverage on satellite and mobile technology, both together so that we don’t need to build up gantries for collecting tolls. And also, you know, one of the other example that maybe I can also give, which many countries probably have started doing is smart metering for the power companies.

So that, that is more on the, at the nation level, what we do for IoT. At the same time, we are doing really quite well in the space of connected mobile vehicles and that’s where many manufacturers will have their cars deployed in different countries while the cars a lot of time is manufactured in southern other countries.

So, you know, Singtel is really strong in this thing called, multi-domestic connectivity, where, you know, it’s different from the traditional roaming and that’s where we provide rich data over the mobile services so that it can be deployed into mobile devices. Maybe a little bit more on what we do as well in IoT space – recently we also deployed Enterprise 5G for certain manufacturing, healthcare and public services as well, where they needed very high throughput and bandwidth and low latency, and that’s where the strength of 5G is.

Yeah, hopefully that gives you an idea, Jim.

[00:05:23] Jim Morrish: Thank you, that’s a very good introduction. Ignatius, I mean, clearly, you’ve got a very long history in the telecoms and connectivity space. I mean yeah, a company that started off by in installing submarine cables and, and has been around for 140 or so years. But of course, now you operate in a, you are headquartered in a highly sophisticated market, and a very technology aware market with, you know, with some extremely efficient  processes and management around, you know, around the country and, and, and the city.

I’m sure there’s a lot of experience that you have to, to export to other countries and operators in the, in the region.

[00:06:00] Ignatius Lee: Some people do say that- Singapore is a small island, so it’s easier to get things done. [Laughs]

[00:06:06] Jim Morrish: Absolutely it is. But you learn the lessons and then those lessons have been learned and, and, and they can be exported, which is a, which is a great benefit. But Alan, same kind of question to you. Can you introduce yourself and, and, and gimme a quick overview of the Bridge Alliance?

[00:06:20] Alan Yeo: Absolutely Jim. Happy to do that. Hi, I am Alan, Senior Vice President, responsible for the growth and expansion of our IoT CPaaS and Enterprise Mobility business. And that includes driving adoptions among member operators and our customers. So very interestingly, I think we’ve been, I’ve been working in the telecom industries and enterprise IT for more than 25 years.

It’s a quarter of a century. And prior to Bridge I was with, Vodafone, heading up the partnership and business development. And before that I was with Deutsche Telecom for 15 years. Wow. And it’s been a long time. Yeah. Bridge has, is an alliance of 34 leading mobile operators across Asia-Pac, Middle East and Africa.

Back when Bridge started in 2004. That was the early days when we were focusing mostly on the roaming and one of the few services that we have truly global and interoperable. Today, we have expanded our remit into how to similarly regionalize and remove barriers to entry in the fields of enterprise mobility is one, and the second one obviously is IoT, which we, we are talking about today.  That, but that’s not the least, CPaaS and 5G is of course, on the table to expand the business. We’re looking at how to leverage our extensive footprint to help our member. As you pointed out, Jim, in the early part of it, you know, Asia is a fragmented market and our enterprise customers monetise and offer regional level services seamlessly.

Think of Bridge as a one-stop shop, come to us where you need to grow your operations, be it connected cars or IoT deployments through the region, and obviously we’re working very closely with our member operators, including Singtel, which we are having a discussion today. We work with every operators like Singtel of course in the markets to get what we need.

And we are regional offering with a strong local support. As you can imagine, fragmented market and APAC very strong support locally. I mean, what else can you think of in terms of that? Having said that, I think we are not just APAC, we are actually we are trying to, thinking of gateway to the world.

 In fact, that’s a bit of correction for that. For some years we’ve been saying that, and Bridge Alliance is actually your gateway to Asia for connectivity for now. And we’re aiming higher and further to the gateway to the world. And so, we’re doing a lot of joint marketing with our member operators to generate more regional leads in areas like IoT.

That is one of the goals for my team in the next year to expand our market outreach to Western markets like Europe and to strengthen our regional preposition to capture more enterprise customer and help our mobile operators secure more deals. As we speak now, and we’re planning even for a trip to the European region very soon, we’re keen to partner European as well as US Telco beyond our footprint to collaborate and win more global customers. So please come and talk to us, and we’re happy to formulate a strategy for you and make your life and your product easier to implement in Asia.

[00:09:03] Jim Morrish: Excellent. Thank you. And there’s a bit of a parallel there as well because I mean, clearly with your experience of pulling together and trying to defragment those Asian markets, you, you started in, yeah, kind of a difficult place. Extending those capabilities across Europe into the US, it should be a relatively simpler thing just cause of a lower degree of fragmentation, which is a bit of a, it’s a similar opportunity of exporting the capabilities that you’ve built in Asia. Slightly further announced into the rest of the world, which is a, a great ambition. But just focusing back on Asia a little bit. I understand that Singtel and Bridge Alliance, you are collaborating, I think, to, to provide, you know, a more comprehensive solution for cellular IoT in the APAC region.

Why is this approach necessary given what you’ve already told me about capabilities and things you’ve delivered up until now?

[00:09:54] Alan Yeo: Yeah, I mean, good question, Jim, and that’s fantastic. You know, and Ignatius earlier on mentioned about roaming. Obviously roaming can be done for IoT at the same time, but we’ve chosen roaming as not the option for now. Multi-domestic, and again, it’s mentioned by Ignatius earlier on. That has been the strategy and that, you know, we are humbled by the fact that multi-domestic has been our strategy, and we’re humbled by the fact that they are also, we have a little bit of success in that area. We understand the certain industries that automotive and origin equipment manufacturers, OEMs demand localized connectivity in almost every country.

And again, I can’t stress more, again, being fragmented at this part of the world. Very, very fragmented. There’s no single operator that can cover all these countries, and with Bridge Alliance through Singtel as our corporation operators, we are able to do joint initiative with many of our operators in the APAC region and become essential to provide comprehensive solutions for the enterprise customer.

So this become a very unique selling point for us. So, as Ignatius said earlier, you know, multi-domestic approaches is critical part of our strategy, and we can be really a one-stop shop in terms of connected products in the Asia market. And we have that inter operator agreements through the APAC region and including the Middle East as well as Africa, that we can offer our unique lead operator model.

For example, Singtel is taking the lead in some of the deals here. We’ve been successful over the, the past years and this has simplified process where sees, for example, a connector car manufacturer seeking a regional rollout, and in contract with just one operator. And of course, being elected operator Singtel will be the natural operator that fits in here and it manages all the cellular IoT connectivitys, needs and automaker service delivery across all the member operators in the markets involved.

So overall, this unique model facilitates market expansion, reduce complexity for the enterprise customer and they enjoy a shorter regional deployment time, which is obviously important for the business. Yeah.

[00:11:48] Jim Morrish: So it’s the combined benefits of multi-domestic, but homogenous and one points of purchasing and contracting, which is really quite a compelling proposition. Ignatius, do you have anything to add to Alan’s comments?

[00:11:59] Ignatius Lee: Yeah, really. So just to augment what Alan has said, Asia is a very complex part of the world. The US is very homogenous. In  Europe there’s a EU and Asia, there is no Asia Union, you know that. So, so every country has a different regulator, they have their own environment.

They have their coverage issues and a lot of time for many of the large, companies that want to deploy IoT service they have to navigate through a very complex, regulatory environment and which they hope that somebody can take the, the job of doing that. And Singtel as a partner of Bridge Alliance and also been around for you know, just I mentioned 140 years, we have partnerships with many, many telcos all over Asia.

That gives us the, the leverage to able to help overcome some of these issues that a very complex Asia has, from a regulatory standpoint. And when we talk about the multi-country deployment, you know, in terms of the roaming, of course it works for many of us.

However, for specific services where the fair user policy by country for roaming sometime may not be able to be enough based on the use cases. So, for example, connected cars, which we are doing a lot right now. They need rich media. They’re using it for podcasts. They’re using it for videos. They’re using it for even in the future, going to tele operations and things like that. So many of them are looking to a higher data pool than the fair user policy can provide to them. So, we help them get into some of those markets, offer domestic, the, the network, for the mobile network in terms of the, the data plan, that is where they can deploy a lot of these services that they wanted to do, you know, and as I mentioned, the automotive industry is the one that we have very successfully deployed. You know, we’re deployed for companies like, BYD which I think is on our website. (https://www.singtel.com/business/articles/byd-drives-global-innovation-in-electric-vehicles-with-singtel) We have deployed it for Volvo. We have deployed it for Hyundai as well. So these are some of those clients that wanted to have rich media and they have plans to be able to deploy a suite of services over time.

[00:14:16] Jim Morrish: Okay. Thank you. I and that’s very interesting. I mean it’s clear to me that together you’ve supported some very sophisticated clients in the region. They must have been very, very demanding particularly in the automotive sector, but I’m sure in other sectors as well.

So I’m intrigued from your interactions with various customers, clients and others, I guess, in the industry, in what ways do you see IoT initiatives becoming, becoming more pivotal, more central, and then and in, in driving superior customer experiences and driving other changes and improvements to, I guess end user consumers?

 Ignatius, do you want to take that first?

[00:14:51] Ignatius Lee: Yeah, sure. So, it’s been evolving quite a lot over time, in terms of what, can be provided and what the use cases can be. So, you know, we came from 2G, it quickly became 3 and became 4G and now five 5G. And there’s talks of 6G. So, every time the technology improves, there are more services that we can put out into the field.

There, there are more things that can be implemented. So we, of course, everybody knows smart homes, smart health, you know, monitoring, utility monitoring. These are all things that are simple and over time got more and more sophisticated. So, you know, we, we see things that are just now I mentioned, value operations, for example, that requires very, very high throughput and high latency because, you know, when somebody operates a machinery, that’s not physically he’s on or with, it can be very accident prone if there’s a latency or the whole machinery may just stop.

So, so we are talking about some of this adoption, you know, that’s happening in the, a big way as we move from 4G to 5G because of the latency. We also see that the data search, due to the prices getting more and more competitive and then people can go on the bigger data bundle that will help many companies to deploy services, they want to do that.

[00:16:08] Jim Morrish: So everything’s becoming more sophisticated, another new generation on that horizon, 6G? But but in parallel to being more sophisticated is more critical as well. And your point about safety criticality at, you know, so for instance, you, you know, the, the, the concept of wireless connected remote emergency stop buttons.

These things become possible certainly with 5G, I’m sure with 6G onwards. But, but it, it’s just more demanding in terms of the support that those applications need from their network connectivity. Alan thoughts from you on, how you see things really evolving. What, what’s becoming pivotal?

[00:16:44] Alan Yeo: I think we have been – today, we’ve been talking a lot about connected cars, which of course is very exciting, right? At Bridge, I think we are also expanding our scope of focus of looking at, to work with the IoT solution companies and a build system manufacturers, for example, and in the manufacturing sector.

IoT connectivity is a fundamental layer of the IoT companies to build a turnkey solution. On the other hand, OEMs are able to develop innovative devices through a partnership between Bridge and embedded system manufacturer to deliver modules that comes with IoT connectivity as solution. So, the solution part is absolutely a, a very critical part moving into the future, and we continue to ensure that this fundamental layer is delivered through seamlessly.

Meanwhile, IoT will also allow companies to create business, revenue models, data-driven actionable insights to deliver higher value and optimise operations, achieving through the entire value chain of the company’s, starting from connectivity basis, right? So that will be a very exciting part, and Bridge Alliance looks to aggregate connectivity as a single pane of glass to enable IoT connectivity solution across the globe and allowing these enterprises to enhance value through data.

Having said that, Bridge Alliance will continue to drive towards simplifying IoT deployments and contracts for enterprises, optimising cost, coverage of IoT connectivity and solutions to enable innovations and digitalise for these companies. So this, I hope, will be the future for Bridge Alliance and moving forward.

[00:18:12] Jim Morrish: Excellent. I mean, it sounds very compelling and also you are, you’re highlighting there that, you know, the, the advent and the, the traction gained by turnkey solutions and, and the need for those to rely on some kind of seamless support and seamless connectivity. The stack has to be turnkey and seamless.

And that’s exactly how you drive volumes. And it’s by driving volumes that you really drive the benefits for the end users. So, it’s really very compelling story. At this point though, I’d like to change tack slightly, and, and look out more broadly into the tech industry and some interesting news articles that, that you guys might have spotted, just recently.

So, Ignatius, do you want to start off, can you introduce a serious technology industry news story that you’ve found for us?

[00:18:53] Ignatius Lee: Sure, sure. Recently I came across this article. So, if you look into the news, Hyundai the car manufacturer. Recently in June exceeded 10 million subscribers for their connected car services.

So, you know, Hyundai is made up of, Hyundai themselves, Kia Automotive and Genesis. And there was a very strong uptake, from 20, 21, 22, and now 23 really hitting, 10 million users, on their, they call it a Bluelink technology and that, that is really phenomenal in terms of the sudden swing. We see that companies are going to use that to monetize and be able to provide more services to their customers. At the same time, they’re going to be collecting a lot more data and probably ingest it into some AI engine to be able to give them, certain recommendations on how to move ahead.

So, so we see exciting time coming. That’s a news that, I find really interesting. 

[00:19:54] Alan Yeo: Yeah, the other article that I would like to share maybe is just the China Telecom, MOU with stc, Saudi Telecom. I think the underlying requirements of this obviously is the Chinese OEMs are actually venturing out, not just to the APAC, but also to the Middle East region in including Saudi Arabia.

You know, and the requirement as mentioned earlier on, I can’t stress more again, the fragmented market in APAC, including Middle East makes our customers connect the car OEMs in terms of implementing connected cars in different countries, in different regions, more challenging. But through Bridge, we’re able to stitch this together and we, in fact, we bring China Telecom to Saudi Arabia and working with stc which both of them coincidentally are part of the Bridge Alliance member operators.

And through that, we’re able to find a similar solution in the end meeting the customer’s requirement of the car OEMs and implementing that solution into Saudi, which is a very important market for a lot of these car OEMs. I’m just giving you an example here. It, there could be a lot of other, other examples that European car OEMs or US car OEMs, but absolutely the car, the connected cars, is a very important element that is growing and Bridge through member operators like Singtel, we want to be there, we want to be ahead of the game and we want to capture these together with our, our operators. So just to share some of these interesting developments in the marketplace. 

[00:21:13] Jim Morrish: Yes, these are two very interesting stories and they kind of work together in a way. And there’s a perspective of the evolution of the connected car environment. Connectivity is, yeah, it’s, it’s a natural thing for EVs, electric vehicles. It’s kind of table stakes to have an EV connected. Meanwhile of course you’ve got a, you know, a Chinese national strategy and which has been in place for years to be very significant force in manufacturing EVs. So there’s going to be a lot of vehicles exported outside of China ,  a lot of opportunity there.

And what’s particularly interesting about the partnership with stc is Neom and, and the investment that they’re making in, in that very smart-leading edge city there. So, so I think there’s a few very interesting announcements there.

Thank you for both of those but at this point, I think we’re running out of time. So, Ignatius, Alan, it’s been extremely interesting discussion and thank you for joining us.

[00:22:03] Ignatius Lee: Pleasure talking to you, Jim.

[00:22:05] Jim Morrish: And with that, we should probably draw this podcast to a close. I should remind everyone out there, you, you can subscribe to the Trending Tech podcast wherever you found us today and indeed, you know, thank you for joining us and, and we’re delighted to have you listening. We’ll be back soon, with another edition of a Trending Tech podcast and another interesting topic within digital transformation and in the meantime, please do, keep, keep checking iot-now.com, vanillaplus.com and theee.ai and you’ll find all sorts of news and interviews and current event reviews and a whole lot more, you might even find something that I’ve written. So, so please do check those locations and thanks again for joining. Bye for now.

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