When Sprint first unveiled its Curiosity™ IoT platform in 2018, the storied telecom’s mission was ambitious yet succinct: “Usher in a new standard of IoT device and data management.”
The vision propelling this new era of development seemed forward-thinking, but not necessarily surprising for Sprint. Although the name “Sprint” didn’t exist until 1972, the company’s venerable history—rooted in the railroad and telephone industries—includes more than a century of innovation.
Whether leading the way as a long-distance carrier in the era of rotary-dial phones or as an early adopter of wireless networking, Sprint has consistently led with a technology-first approach. So, when the company placed its bets on the “Big Idea” to build a Platform as a Service (PaaS) to serve a growing pool of application developers, they went all in.
“We asked ourselves why we were continuing to build networks for smartphones? Because when we looked at it, of course there were still smartphones, but there were evermore connected devices, evermore applications—and what an application needs out of a network is something completely different than a smartphone,” says Ivo Rook, Sprint SVP of IoT & Product Development. “So, we decided to build a network for software.”
Accelerating the Future
The Curiosity™ team’s “Big Decision” created the outline for charting the roadmap, based on a new end user persona. Informally dubbed the “B2D” channel (Rook interchanges Business-to-Disruptor with Business-to-Developer), the first step was to build a platform at scale and address the network architecture, but with this new use case in mind. Instead of shoehorning the existing network to fit a new business model, Sprint thought outside the box and designed a network intended to be consumed in an entirely new way.
“How can you build a network for developers, when you don’t know how they think, how they build, how they consume, or what they need?” Ivo says. “To accept that was wildly uncomfortable.”
The one thing the Sprint team knew for sure, he adds, was “this group of people, profiles, and companies represented an enormous amount of buying power, which we knew, in the future, would only accelerate. So, we didn’t have to think about whether or not to go after it.”
Building with Partners
How do you build a network that’s agile enough to accommodate unknown asks and needs? And from a business angle, how could it be first to market with a distributed core network and a secure platform built specifically for IoT? To accelerate the journey, the Curiosity™ team looked to their strengths and sought experienced industry partners to fill in the gaps:
- They plugged into Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform for connected intelligence
- IoT and mobile chip leader Arm provided expertise in sim management and device security
- And for distributed cloud infrastructure that could go anywhere, Sprint turned to Packet.
Sprint needed efficient, powerful infrastructure that could inspire and enable the disruptors and developers. This meant automation and API—of course—but also access to the software ecosystems that Curiosity™ could enable and connect.
“Packet helps us rapidly scale our business, and also takes a lot of costs out by running Curiosity™ straight on bare metal. A second advantage is that Packet brings a deep knowledge about developer ecosystems—how that world actually works.”
Innovation at Scale
“Build it and they will come” is the kind of bravado that leads to discovery, and the Curiosity™ team continues to push the limit by investing in cutting-edge projects and partnerships.
In October, 2019 Sprint announced an alliance with Arizona State University (ASU)—the largest public research university in the country—to provide a rich Internet of Things (IoT) network on campus with Sprint’s Curiosity™. The collaboration includes plans to launch a “Curiosity™ University,” create a 5G incubator at ASU’s Novus Innovation Corridor, and share joint R&D projects ranging from safety and security to blockchain as a service.
One objective of the partnership is to produce a “smart state” model based on low latency, high-availability and localized connectivity. Additionally, the Sprint-ASU partnership also benefits the entire region via the Greater Phoenix Smart Region Consortium, which drives initiatives leveraging advanced connectivity and infrastructure that will reach 22 cities in Arizona.
We have come at a pivotal moment. If you take the world of IoT seriously and you believe that AI, robotics, and autonomy will change the world, then what you’re actually saying is that software is more important for networks than smartphones are.
"Our collaboration with Sprint exemplifies the broad benefits of a university-corporate relationship," notes Sethuraman Panchanathan, who serves as Executive VP of Knowledge Enterprise Development and Chief Research and Innovation Officer at ASU.
"The entire university community and those throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area will benefit directly from this collaboration by having access to Sprint's network and through the educational and research aspects that will usher in new innovations in technology."
Transforming Cities & Communities
Use cases for 5G continue to rapidly appear and evolve across the enterprise landscape. These range from manufacturing fleet logistics and warehouse operations to public safety, large-venue entertainment and healthcare. Each requires an increasing amount of computing resources to deliver intelligence and activate new experiences. Wireless connectivity and secure, developer-friendly platforms like Curiosity™, are the glue.
Working with partners across the country—including in Atlanta, Greenville, Sacramento, and Detroit—the Curiosity™ team is helping to drive conversations and accelerate innovation with cities and communities. An early focus is transportation.
The Curiosity Lab In Peachtree Corners, GA (which launched in September, 2019) is the first US outdoor mobile 5G/IoT environment for live testing of transportation and smart city solutions. Located in metro Atlanta and set in a real but flexible urban environment, this unique technology incubator includes:
- A four-lane roadway with dedicated autonomous vehicle lanes
- Streetlights available for configuration to demonstrate “smart pole” solutions
- Commercial tenants within a Technology Park
- Two full-service/conference hotels
- Several retail locations
Set within a 500-acre technology park, the Curiosity Lab enables companies to develop and test emerging technologies with live smart city infrastructure, next-generation connectivity and the most real-world conditions possible.
A “Go Anywhere” Network
Sprint isn’t stopping at the U.S. border—or even this continent. In early 2020, the Curiosity™ team announced plans to launch in Australia as well as Europe via new partnerships in both places.
Teaming up with Telstra, Sprint says the expansion will allow for local breakout in Australia “helping to improve round-trip time and enabling better performance of customer’s IoT applications.” Sprint’s first Australian customer is Wagz, a smart pet products provider that promises a completely connected pet lifestyle.
On the heels of the Australian expansion, Sprint also announced collaborations with Swisscom, Switzerland’s leading telecom, and “next-generation telco” Telia Company in Stockholm to help connect and manage IoT applications at the local level in Europe.
According to the Curiosity™ team, “A local profile allows an IoT device to connect to the corresponding carrier’s network. The IoT device looks like a local subscriber, while maintaining all visibility in Curiosity. Sprint has enabled eUICC or electronic SIM (eSIM) capability for secure, instant switching of SIM profiles over the air. This is useful when an IoT device moves to different countries worldwide or is deployed in countries where permanent roaming is not allowed. Customers can switch networks without having to touch the IoT device.”
But why go to Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Melbourne or Stockholm? According to Rook, the answer is simple: To bring the network to the applications, instead of the other way around.
“Customers are intrigued by the fact that we do not need to explain to them where the network is, where our data centers are—we basically ask them, ‘where is your application?’ And when we know where their application is, we can actually spin up a node at that very location.” Ivo says.
To meet this promise, Sprint relies on a flexible approach to infrastructure that provides Sprint with a clear competitive advantage. "With Packet's developer-friendly bare metal, we're able to take our Curiosity™ platform to any city in the United States in 90 days or less. This is simply unheard of."