IBM, AT&T Team on Internet of Things for Smarter Cities

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-02-18

IBM, AT&T Team on Internet of Things for Smarter Cities

IBM and AT&T have announced a new global alliance to develop solutions that help support the "Internet of things."

The companies will combine their analytic platforms, cloud, and security technologies with privacy in mind to gain more insights on data collected from machines in a variety of industries.

The new AT&T and IBM alliance will initially focus on creating new solutions targeted for city governments and midsize utilities, said Michael Curry, vice president of WebSphere product management at IBM. These organizations intend to integrate and analyze vast quantities of data from assets such as mass transit vehicles, utility meters, and video cameras. As a result, cities may be able to better evaluate patterns and trends to improve urban planning and utilities can better manage their equipment to reduce costs.

"This collaboration of two world-class companies will help deliver a more connected planet," said Chris Hill, senior vice president of AT&T Advanced Solutions, in a statement. "We share a vision that the 'Internet of Things' will help companies in a variety of industries rely on their remote assets and connected devices to take their business to the next level."

AT&T brings its Machine-to-Machine (M2M) globally accessible network, devices, and Global Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) to help connect assets worldwide to a single global network. These technologies are managed through AT&T’s M2M platforms to securely collect, organize, store and send the data to applications. IBM brings the Intelligent Operations CenterMaximo Asset Management, its advanced analytics capabilities, and IBM MessageSight Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) Appliance, which complements the IBM MobileFirst family of solutions. IBM MobileFirst provides the management, security and analytics capabilities needed for organizations to capitalize on the increasing role of mobile devices in the Internet of things. The two companies will work together to build solutions at the AT&T M2M Foundry in Plano, Texas and IBM Global Solution Centers around the world.

"We were working on a lot of this stuff with AT&T and it was all working out pretty well so we said let's try to 'templatize' as much of this as possible and go after a broader set of opportunities around the world to go after this quickly emerging space," Curry said.

Curry told eWEEK that IBM and AT&T are working with "multiple cities" around the world in pilot projects involving these new applications, but the companies are not sharing the names of those cities at this time.

"Smarter cities, cars, homes, machines and consumer devices will drive the growth of the Internet of Things along with the infrastructure that goes with them, unleashing a wave of new possibilities for data gathering, predictive analytics, and automation," said Rick Qualman, vice president of strategy and business development for the telecom industry at IBM. "The new collaboration with AT&T will offer insights from crowdsourcing, mobile applications, sensors and analytics on the cloud, enabling all organizations to better listen, respond and predict."

Curry noted that IBM provides the middleware layer, the above the network layer, to do everything from analytics to cognitive computing, and some of the application layer capabilities like asset management and even security.

IBM, AT&T Team on Internet of Things for Smarter Cities

"When you join the capabilities together we have a nice set of joint technologies that provide a complete solution to organizations that are looking to gain insight and gain leverage from connected devices," Curry said. "So we're looking to combine the analytics the cloud and security capabilities from IBM with the network capabilities from AT&T and applying that initially to the Smarter Cities activities where we're doing things like collecting data from video surveillance cameras, connected parking meters, connected sensors that are sensing traffic patterns, sensors that are sensing air pollution levels, water pollution levels, water flow – all those things that can generally be used in managing cities."

IBM has rolled those things up into a set of applications that enable city planners and city operations teams to more effectively manage operations to improve the quality of life for citizens and do things such as respond more quickly to emergencies, reduce costs of repairs and do predictive maintenance on specific pieces of equipment or help to monetize things like parking to generate more revenue, Curry said.

Indeed, key capabilities for city planners in connected cities include being able to better allocate and distribute resources based on information reported from incidents and service disruptions, and analyze the movement of people to improve traffic management, parking capacity, location and number of first unit responders. City officials can better prepare and react to potential bottlenecks and other issues in case of an emergency. Other capabilities include being able to identify inefficient traffic patterns so that traffic can be re-routed, to better allocate public safety resources in places where a majority of people congregate, and to monitor social media updates from citizens reporting bad weather or major traffic so the city can take best course of action.

IBM's alliance with AT&T is a nice extension to Big Blue's MobileFirst strategy, Curry said.

"The lines between mobile and the Internet of Things are starting to blur," he noted. "In a lot of cases your mobile device is the connection for your things into the cloud. In a lot of cases the mobile device can act as a remote control to your 'things,' like in the example of the connected vehicle where you use your phone to unlock your car or start it remotely. Or it can be the display of what's going on with your 'things.' The lines are blurring and the mobile device is just another connected thing in that world.

"So you need to have some consistency in how you communicate across those two channels and have a good publish/subscribe event-driven architecture between them. And you need to be able to develop applications very quickly that take advantage of the information and the connectivity of those things. So we’re finding that the MobileFirst development platform becomes a great platform – particularly our Worklight technology – for building these types of applications that control and take advantage of the data that's being produced by the Internet of Things."

According to industry analyst firm IDC, the installed base for the Internet of things will grow to approximately 212 billion devices by 2020, a number that includes 30 billion connected devices. IDC sees this growth driven largely by intelligent systems that will be installed and collecting data—across both consumer and enterprise applications.

In the latest iteration of Current Analysis’ Global M2M Service provider rankings, principal analyst Kitty Weldon wrote that "AT&T is positioned as a global leader in providing M2M services and has demonstrated excellent traction for its initiatives with customers."

IBM and AT&T are participants in the "SmartAmerica Challenge," led by Presidential Innovation Fellows Sokwoo Rhee and Geoff Mulligan. The project aims to build several "Internet of Things" testbeds around the country by May 2014. The network would aim to show what cyber-physical systems can do to improve safety, sustainability, efficiency, mobility, and overall quality of life.

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