My 5 Key Takeaways on IoT and Beacon Technology from MWC

My 5 Key Takeaways on IoT and Beacon Technology from MWC

Insights from:
VP of Market Operations at Kontakt.io

Last week at MWC Barcelona, I talked to more of a dozen of the world’s most successful bluetooth beacon solution provider of which most are our customers. We always exchanged pleasantries and talked business, but this year, it was different.

When I returned to our office in Berlin, I found myself relaying all kinds of positive news. From kind words about our products to–more importantly– inspired, transformed ideas about how the market is changing and growing.

After several days of reflection, I wanted to share my broader thoughts on the beacon ecosystem publicly. I’ve identified a total of five trends that best describe the current market. Understanding these is helping me to prioritise and take daily business decisions, and I hope they will help you as well.

1. Consolidation: the niche players are playing it smart, and they’re winning.

For Kontakt.io, the market is isn’t just growing. It’s shifting. It’s becoming more nuanced. While our business has been constantly growing over the last years, our customer base has begun to change. There is an influx of new players merging, and the previously small fish have grown substantially.

There is one common factor among all the companies who are succeeding in this market: they are nailing their niche. While nailing the niche in software-only products is difficult, nailing the niche in beacon-powered software solutions is very difficult. What the winners seem to share are three things.

First, they focus on specific verticals and locations instead of spreading themselves thin. Second, they frame themselves and their solutions around tackling customer challenges. They don’t focus on being a cool cutting-edge technology, a super hot beacon provider, or IoT buzzword. Third, and maybe most importantly, their go-to-market and sales approach reinforces these first two points. Instead of taking every proposed project in every country, they take only ones which support their core purpose. They have learned that success is not about doing as many free POCs as possible, but about optimizing the POC-to-Contract conversion rates. They are landing real deals through proper ongoing qualification.

2. Too big and too slow: corporates don’t run the show.

For the past 1-2 years, major players have entered the market. HP Aruba, Cisco Meraki, Osram, Orange, Bosch, even Facebook and many more now have their “own” beacon hardware and software teams. From a textbook perspective, this is a major threat. The market picks up, new competition arises, and Porter’s five forces are not in favor of an early stage growth company.

But the real-world 2017 beacon market is behaving differently. From the end-solution perspective, none of the big names play a significant role. They don’t have their own solutions. Instead, strategy is evolving more around forming partnerships with niche-winners to conquer the market together. Companies who saw little growth two years ago are finding themselves with offers and prospects and, most importantly, a great outlook for 2017.

On the hardware side, it looks similar, and I repeatedly hear the exact same story as to why: beacon solutions aren’t just about hardware and infrastructure management. Customers value experience and dedication. In a market where the technology is growing and changing, customers need to know that they will be taken care of and that they have experts they can rely on–experts whose sole mission and only business is to serve and support other businesses.

3. Collaboration wins: Let’s speak openly.

From 2013 to 2015, the beacon ecosystem was driven by startups building their proximity solutions in silos. The shared touch points were Doug Thompson’s beacon blog and later on Unacasts Proximity Reports–now the Proximity.Directory. In those days, everybody was posting early, creative, sometimes happy-go-lucky use cases and typical “100 things you can do with beacons” listicles. Proximity evangelists were sipping cocktails with their hot leads in secret bars, and it was all very hush-hush and mysterious.

At the same time, everybody was trying to tackle every point in the value chain–from beacon hardware to middleware, to end-user app, integration, deployment, and maintenance. This seemed to make sense at the time. You could reply to any objection regarding a project with “we do it all for you.” Now, two years later, market players have grown up. They know that, at this stage, it’s not about exclusivity and fighting for scraps. Rather, it’s all about collaboration in order to make the market bigger, stronger. This requires something new for us: open discussion.

We need to understand what parts of the value chain businesses are focusing on. We need to know who is where and which partnerships make the most sense. This way, an indoor navigation solution provider can easily team up with the proximity platform provider, bring on the beacon ad-tech company, and so on. For me, this is one of the most promising trends. It means focusing business to benefit the many people and businesses using IoT applications.

4. Scale needs quality: we’re not looking for commoditization.

This trend mostly relates to hardware. In large enterprise rollouts, beacon requirements skyrocket. You could do your POC with budget beacons from Alibaba, but how does that translate to the big game? I’ve found that, 9 times out of 10, companies looking to scale see value in services and experience beyond the physical beacon. Lead time, SLAs, management in the cloud or via mobile app, drop-shipping, custom pre-configs, return policies, installation, maintenance, and 24-7 in-house support are different from a bag of plastic hardware, but they’re all seen as necessary tools.

For example, if 5% of your beacon infrastructure is flawed, the end-user software can’t run properly. Dollars are saved in the short run, but a project like this will only backfire in the long run, and that comes at a cost for the solution provider. Yes, beacon technology is increasingly popular and increasingly common, but unpreparedness is one reason we are going to see several failed projects in the near future. Projects shouldn’t fail just because a hardware provider wasn’t able to live up to their promises due to improper scale and lacking expertise.

The future of beacons isn’t just retail. It’s not just smart homes. It’s not just the mom-and-pop store down the street. It’s big and infrastructure-sized. This is why long-term and reliable partnerships are eating hardware commoditization for breakfast.

5. The Chasm: We are crossing it.

Last but not least, the big question: Where are we in the market’s development? For beacons, Moore’s ideas of “crossing the chasm” applies more and more each day. We’ve been working almost solely with early adopters and technophiles for a long time, but these days are numbered. Media hype is declining, phones are ringing. We are approaching the point where those more wary businesses are finding reason to get onboard with beacon technology. We are crossing the chasm.

Comment or ping me. I’d love to hear your feedback!

Kontakt.io’s mission is to become the backbone of the IoT. We support end-solution providers to build, integrate and maintain BLE beacons, tags, gateways and infrastructure management software. You can find our beacons in 130 countries and in every major city in the world.