"iot has become an indispensable part of our existence"

Carolien Nijhuis

The Internet of Things (IoT) is here to stay and promises a world of opportunities. The physical world is rapidly becoming connected, and here at KPN we are seeing an exponential growth in the number of devices connected to the Internet. Recently, KPN activated the 10 millionth IoT SIM. We caught up with Carolien Nijhuis, Director of Internet of Things at KPN, to talk about this development, the role of IoT and the importance of IoT for our society.

KPN has been connecting people for over 140 years. It is only relatively recently that we have also been connecting things – and this growth has been exponential. What’s behind that growth?
“It’s true, yes, we’re seeing exponential growth in the number of devices connected to our networks via a SIM card. In 2019, there were 6 million SIMs; in the years that followed, this number rose by 1 million per year. That number has grown again by another 1 million in just six months, taking us to more than 10 million active SIMs. In the past, we often had to explain what IoT is and what you can do with it. We’re well beyond that stage now. IoT is no longer just a hype; it’s become an indispensable part of our lives. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last few years, and we’re gaining more knowledge and experience every day. Our customers realize that digitalization – of which IoT is a part – is a must. Our business customers in particular are keen to do something with IoT. That ‘something’ is always driven by a business need, such as working more efficiently or improving the customer experience.”

IoT is no longer just a hype; it’s become an indispensable part of our lives.

Carolien Nijhuis, KPN’s director of IoT

What networks are those 10 million devices connected to?
"These 10 million SIMs are connected to the mobile network. Since we started working with IoT back in 2009, we have seen a growing need in the market to connect devices to the mobile network. There was a strong demand for smart meters, for example. In 2017, we activated a dedicated IoT network, LTE-M, which is based on 4G. This technology is suitable for enabling devices to exchange small amounts of information efficiently, with the right balance between reachability, energy consumption and cost. It enables companies to optimize their business processes and improve the customer experience. Typical examples of how LTE-M is being used include smart meters and for recording, tracking and managing assets. For a cable manufacturer, for example, we connected every one of their tens of thousands of reels to the Internet, so they always know where the reels are and how much cable is left on the reel. Besides LTE-M, we also provide mobile connectivity via 2G and 4G. And, of course, we now have 5G; this network connects devices even faster and more efficiently – and it’s more energy efficient, more secure and more reliable. It’s used in robotics and smart cameras, for example."

The technology is deployed in a lot of business applications, but how do consumers experience all these smart devices connected to the Internet?
"Consumers are also increasingly using devices connected to the Internet, much more often than they realize. Everyone has heard of smart doorbells and smart lights that are connected to the Internet; these devices are usually connected via WiFi. However, we’re now seeing a trend where manufacturers of consumer products are increasingly opting for a connection via a SIM card rather than WiFi, which means that the service isn’t reliant on the consumer's WiFi network. After all, the mobile network is reliable and secure. Consumers use devices connected to the 4G or 5G mobile network via a SIM card every day – just think about when you pay for things in stores and restaurants using a mobile card machine. Even vending machines at the office or at the train station have a SIM card that is connected to the Internet. When it’s almost empty, the device gives a signal so it can be restocked. And all new cars are required to have a SIM card that can not only make an eCall (automatic emergency call), but also provide relevant information for engine maintenance and the features that are available in the app that comes with your car. We deliver IoT solutions to manufacturers who make these products for consumers, such as bicycles (Stella or Decathlon Smart Bikes), for example. The KPN SIM cards are inside the bike. Our solutions go beyond the subscription alone; they encompass the entire connectivity chain, from the SIM card to the network, to the customer’s management portal and underlying system."

IoT has become part of our lives. What contribution does IoT make to society?
"IoT applications have huge implications for organizations and society as a whole. Take the most topical example, the smart meter. Who today isn’t concerned about their energy usage? Smart meters have their own SIM card, which means this data can be transmitted to the network operator, who then passes it on to the energy company. This allows consumers to track their daily energy usage and make changes if necessary. That’s incredibly valuable information in the current climate. It gives people an insight into their usage and the opportunity to save energy and money. There are around 5 million smart meters in the Netherlands; KPN has connected 3.5 million of them. In addition to smart meters, we also connect heat pumps, solar panels and charging stations. IoT is also being applied in the healthcare sector to help keep healthcare affordable and accessible. Thanks to a smart mattress that knows exactly how long someone has been lying in the same position, patients no longer need to be turned unnecessarily to prevent bedsores. And patients can be discharged earlier because they can be monitored at home via a sensor. This not only saves money, but also improves the patient's quality of life."

IoT applications have huge implications for organizations and society as a whole.

Carolien Nijhuis, KPN’s director of IoT

What role do you expect IoT to play in the coming years?
"I expect the exponential growth to continue, driven by all the opportunities being created by 5G and artificial intelligence. Take drones, for example. Autonomous drones that are connected to the Internet are already being used to inspect aircraft. And the horticulture sector is benefiting from intelligent robotic solutions. The possibilities are endless. These solutions can potentially help to address the labor shortage challenges we are facing as a country."