One of the challenges associated with building a connected product is actually connecting it to the internet. While there are several options for connecting a device (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, satellite, LoRA, etc.), they come with significant tradeoffs. Unlicensed tech such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are cheaper, but the end user bears the brunt of getting something online and keeping it connected.
Technologies such as cellular require a professional network and ongoing connectivity fees that end users may balk at paying. But they are more secure and easier to get online than Wi-Fi, which makes them popular with companies that just want their product to work. That’s why 1NCE (pronounced “once”) caught my eye. The German company offers customers a network for IoT that costs $10 (or €10) for 10 years of connectivity.
That’s it. The fine print is that the $10 covers 500 MB of data over that 10-year span. For devices that need more data, their users can top off with another 500 MB, but they are still stuck within the original 10-year time frame. So if you want to build a connected dog collar or a connected smoke alarm, you simply call 1NCE and build connectivity into your product with its SIM, knowing that it will cost you $10 for the expected life of that device.
Obviously, this isn’t a good option for video cameras or devices that will transfer a lot of data, but the beauty of many IoT devices is that they don’t actually need that much data. Most need to send a few kilobytes of data a day to share a single piece of information, such as the time or temperature.
1NCE has signed deals with carriers such as China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, and others that Arne Assmann, 1NCE head of strategy and business, couldn’t name, to provide coverage in 103 countries including the U.S.
It also recently signed a deal with Amazon Web Services to both sell its SIM card and service on the AWS Marketplace. And just this month, it did a deal to link its dashboard with AWS, making it really easy for a hardware company to build an IoT device and send the data from that device to the AWS cloud.
To deliver the flat-rate fee over such a long time frame, 1NCE has built a global network by signing deals for direct links to carriers’ networks and is using virtualization to build a single network on top of that for its customers. 1NCE can deliver 2G, 3G, and variations of 4G connectivity to customers depending on the radios they elect to put in their devices. On the 4G side, it can offer NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M.
The connectivity is nice, but the company also handles device onboarding, has a message brokering service, and has other features as part of its offering that make gathering data and getting it to the right place without using a lot of power easier. 1NCE already has roughly 5 million devices on its network, which is an impressive bit of momentum given it had 1 million devices at the beginning of 2019.
I’ve seen several efforts to deliver this type of network try and fail in my decades covering telecoms, but given the demand for low-rate connectivity and consistent pricing, we might finally have a large enough market for this type of network to succeed. It also helps that network virtualization has made it much easier to build a scalable telco network.
The biggest competitor to a company like 1NCE, which was formed in 2017, is probably Twilio, which is trying to use its history of providing bandwidth and telco functionality to web and application developers to provide network connectivity to hardware developers. Twilio offers cheap SIMs, but so far nothing on par with 1NCE. However, I won’t count out more competition in this area given how tough it still is to connect a device.