During MWC 2024 we caught up with Chris Keone, MD of Division X at BT to talk about their recent NB IoT drive and how it is ‘laying the groundwork’ for future smart cities and teched up industries.

Andrew Wooden

March 5, 2024

4 Min Read

Last month BT launched a multi-million-pound narrowband IoT network drive, which it says will enable widescale IoT use across various industries, and shape future ecosystems such as smart cities and smart agriculture.

NB-IoT is a low-power network which BT says has the potential to transform industries by connecting devices and automating many processes that currently require manual oversight or direct involvement. Ultimately it is supposed to allow the firm to help fast-track ‘smart cities of the future’ through things like monitoring and optimising energy use, storage, and distribution.

We caught up with Chris Keone, MD of Division X at BT to talk through the recent announcement and what the technology might usher in.

“Last week we announced the launch of our NB IoT network within the UK, obviously on the back of the EE network,” said Keone. “So we've got fantastic coverage – 97% of the UK population. NB IoT certainly isn't new for BT, we've been exploring it within Division X or within other areas for a while, but this is the first time that we've got something there that's ready for real time use for our customers. And the reason we've done that is because what we're focusing on in Division X is making sure that we've got the right building blocks for the customer problems that we could see that they're already starting to face or that they're going to be facing tomorrow.

“It just gives us another piece of the puzzle in our toolkit to be able to actually build those solutions with them to address those outcomes. So specifically, as it pertains to that network, the reason why we've enabled NB IoT today is so that we can capture things like utility, smart cities, anything that's stationary basically, [which] isn't moving around. So that's there ready for the real time. We are also exploring other technology capabilities within IoT as well – LTE-M, RedCap… obviously, there's things like autonomous vehicles, they require something along that vein and that's again something that's coming in the near future that we need to be ready for.”

Smart city concepts, at their most grand resembling something between a scene from Minority Report and Star Trek, have been around for a long time. Other technology sectors such as data analytics, 5G, and cloud computing have all been held up at various points as enablers of this hyper-connected future, but so far the sort of thing being described has only really taken hold in a few niche areas, such as smart factories.

When asked what’s different about NB IoT in this regard, and when it’s likely ‘smart cities’ or anything like it will start to manifest in a noticeable and widespread way, Keone added:

“There's definitely a gap between what the technology can enable and the maturity and the readiness of the businesses or industry or public sector that can actually take advantage of that. So we're starting to see pockets now where you are getting places like ports, transport, logistics, those areas that are really looking to digitize and transform their operations. They're at a much higher level of maturity than perhaps some other industries are.

“I think what we're making sure we we’re doing is first of all laying the groundwork from an infrastructure perspective, but then more importantly, actually getting out and talking to some of those customers to really figure out what it is they need, and helping them overcome any of those blockers that there may be as to why they're not adopting that environment today.

“It’s definitely a journey, but we've got a fantastic set of customers within BT, a fantastic set of assets. And with division X, what we're actually now able to do is really go and spend the time with those customers –  because we can all sit in a room and guess what we think the problems are. And some of the ones that have come out from some of these customer discussions are ones that we’d have never come up with on our own in a room. So it's really important that we're co-creating, innovating openly with them, so that we can actually create something meaningful together.”

With regards to what turned out to be the predominant theme of MWC 2024 – AI – and how it ties up with all this, Keone added:

“Every stands has got AI written on it somewhere in some form. And I think the speed at which that's moving is interesting, because what we were talking about three months ago is not we're talking about today, because it's just happening so quickly. But I think for me, the interesting part is making sure that that turns into a reality. There's a richness in the idea and the capability that it could actually provide… what I want to make sure with my team in Division X is that we're actually turning some of that stuff into a reality and delivering for customers.”

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MWC 2024

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins Telecoms.com on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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