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Mobile operators must provide more than connectivity if they are to succeed in m-health in developed countries

To benefit from delivering M2M solutions in the m-health market, mobile operators must develop a well-constructed strategy and roadmap to satisfy the requirements of healthcare providers and customers.

If mobile network operators (MNOs) are serious about developing machine-to-machine (M2M) services as a new revenue stream, the m-health market is one to consider. As discussed in our report on operator diversification strategies and e-health services, the provision of healthcare in developed countries is facing unprecedented demand, and governments, healthcare authorities and insurance companies are seeking to streamline services, improve productivity and curb spending. M-health services could be used to support the implementation of some of these objectives, and MNOs need to determine what their role could be.

Currently, MNOs control only one part of any m-health solution, the cellular connection, but m-health solutions are far more complex than simply providing connectivity. Figure 1 provides an illustration of the information flow for m-health solutions. As an example, a patient being monitored for cardiovascular disease could use any one of the four mobile devices shown. In some cases, the MNO may not even realise that a connection is being used to support an m-health solution, if an existing mobile device/connection is used. The information flow from an m-health device via a cellular connection and onwards to healthcare providers, is one that MNOs are in a good position to manage and support.

Figure 1: M-health devices and information flows [Source: Analysys Mason, 2012]

Figure 1: M-health devices and information flows [Source: Analysys Mason, 2012]

In order to maximise the financial benefits and support the healthcare industry to deliver m-health solutions, MNOs should consider:

  • implementing robust service-level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee information flows as a way of reassuring potential partners and customers
  • providing tailored ICT support to partners and users, which could include first-line customer support to check that the m-health app has been successfully delivered and set up
  • acting as the ‘go-to’ enabler for healthcare providers by supporting and managing M2M cellular, wireless and fixed connections, and their respective information flows
  • developing a long-term roadmap (7–10 years) with healthcare providers.

Many MNOs in developed markets believe M2M represents the solution to generating new revenue streams and offsetting declining revenue for voice and per byte of data. Generating revenue from M2M devices seems straightforward – simply provide a platform to support connections and deliver the connectivity. In reality, the m-health market does not represent a large revenue opportunity in terms of the number of connections and the amount of data transferred, but MNOs have the chance to benefit from the value of supporting m-health devices and administering data flows. If MNOs are going to benefit from delivering niche M2M solutions, they must develop a robust strategy and well-constructed roadmap to satisfy industry requirements.

We will soon publish a second article that will further explore MNOs’ potential role in the m-health market.

For more information about Analysys Mason's research into the M2M market, please see our reports, Machine-to-machine device connections: worldwide forecast 2010–2020 and M2M scorecard for communications service providers: 2011