A Spanish digital retail company, Beabloo, recently announced a solution for pharmacies (and other key retail stores) to manage social distancing for Covid19. It is a good example of very rapid IoT innovation, based on an existing set of capabilities and an immediate need. They are integrating remote sensors and displays within a pharmacy, to allow the effective policing of social distancing in store (see figure). It is a practical example of the type of smart city applications that are often seen as key users of telco networks, and 5G in particular.
Where are the telcos?
Beabloo have strong working partnerships with major IoT players like Intel and Microsoft, but it was noticeable that there is no mention of Telco partnerships, even for communications.
Within a store, communication is undoubtably being achieved through Bluetooth and WiFi. However, the problem of social distancing in retail stores goes far beyond the confines of the building. This should be an opportunity for Telco. If an application knows there is a queue for the pharmacy then this is information that you might want to subscribe to via messaging or in response to being geographically close (so you can avoid queue). The pharmacy sees value in preventing queues building and social distancing problems or in terms of advertising non busy stores. The consumer sees value in avoiding queues and close proximity by postponing a visit or choosing to shop where it is less busy.
Innovation is not just about technology
Such a solution does not require technical innovation, or even 5G. It simply requires the ability to innovate and partner with application providers, repurposing existing capabilities and exposing them to partners and to consumers. Telcos can demonstrate IoT innovation with their existing capabilities. This is the only way Telcos stand any chance of being more than commodity connectivity in 5G smart cities.
Fail fast and fail often
Maybe such a product exists. Maybe in trying this we discover that nobody will pay for this. Maybe there are lots of reasons not to try.
Maybe nobody has this capability packaged in this way today. Maybe there is an untapped market of proximity transactions out there. Maybe there are a lot of reasons to give it a try.