Market Insight

SK Telecom empowers the individual as IoT application developers

June 25, 2015  | Subscribers Only

Sam Lucero Sam Lucero Senior Principal Analyst, IoT Platforms

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Key Points

  • SK Telecom, a leading Korean mobile operator, announced its “ThingPlug” IoT platform on 11 June 2015.
  • ThingPlug is based on the oneM2M standard development organization’s Release 1 specification.
  • SK Telecom highlights ThingPlug’s openness and capability to support developers, including individuals.
  • The company hopes to leverage developer innovation to help solve social challenges, such as enabling smart city applications.

Our Analysis

SK Telecom is certainly one of the most innovative and forward-thinking operators in the M2M/IoT space today and should be a model for other operators in drawing useful lessons from SK Telecom’s experience. By leveraging the oneM2M Release 1 specification, SK Telecom has gone beyond the current operator mainstream of deploying an M2M connection platform (MCP), and even the leading edge of those deploying M2M application platforms (MAPs).

While MCPs facilitate connection management, and MAPs enable device management and optimized application development and management, these are in the service of creating vertically-integrated, self-contained M2M applications. Certainly, these type of platforms are helpful, and even necessary, for successful M2M applications to be developed, deployed, and managed on an on-going basis. But M2M is, frankly, not the leading edge of the market today, or its eventual end state. M2M represents, essentially, the “INTRAnet of Things” – self-contained islands of connectivity and functionality, deployed in the whole of its parts by a specific entity for a specific purpose.

SK Telecom’s vision with ThingPlug is to enable developers to “mash-up” data from a variety of sources: other M2M/IoT applications, open government databases, social media feeds, and enterprise resource planning systems, for example. SK Telecom will provide not only the software development kit and service layer platform for the developer to use to create and manage the application, but will act as the broker connecting the developer to all of the different data sources that have registered to make their data sources publicly available.

What does this mean in practical terms? First, IoT applications should, over time, benefit from much richer data sources than would be capable for most, if not all, M2M application developers to deploy on their own. The IoT developer is not constrained to the sensors, devices, and machines that s/he (her/his organization) can deploy directly, for example. Rather, data from a wide range of third-party sensors, devices, and machines can, in theory, be used. Even more so, data sources like social media feeds are not even typically available to the M2M developer, but should be available for use by the IoT developer.

Second, the barrier to entry for IoT application development is much lower than is typically the case for M2M development. Less investment, less development time, and fewer development resources are needed, since much of the data is already out there, just waiting to be “mashed up” and used for something new and innovative. SK Telecom is hoping that even individuals will be attracted, and able, to develop interesting new IoT applications on the ThingPlug platform.

In effect, SK Telecom is hoping to unleash the same type of creativity for the IoT that the iPhone first unleashed for smartphones. ThingPlug is meant to be a platform for third-party inspired IoT applications in much the same way that the iPhone (and now all smartphones) is a “platform” for smartphone apps. The advent of the App Store was a watershed moment in the development of the smartphone industry, and IHS is betting that the availability of IoT platforms like ThingPlug will do the same for the IoT.

Operators have a prime opportunity to create and offer the IoT platforms that will power this innovation. While large-scale engagements with traditional M2M customers in industrial and “heavy” commercial markets are attractive to operators, IHS encourages operators to look over the horizon and understand the fundamental shift in the market that is taking place. After all, the individual developer working out of his or her dorm room today may just have the makings of a multi-billion dollar global public company five years from now. 


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