Business models making IoT tick

Those days Internet of Things (IoT) is the topic of choice when technology people meet to discuss innovation and the next big idea. Being all-encompassing and omnipresent as a theme, Internet of Things gets injected in all forums around hardware, connectivity and value added applications – from everyday life to the cloud.

What is Internet of Things after all?

Since its beginnings until today, Internet has been a network connecting people to other people, to content and to services. Internet has evolved to allow more devices to access it – first computers, then mobile phones, then wearables, and so on. It is still a network in its core, with its protocols, language and rules.

Internet of Things is not anything different, still a network but this time allowing machines and sensors to track, monitor and relay their data to other machines or to people to fulfil an action – e.g. make a payment, send an alert, do a phone call, start a process.

IoT is so wide-ranging as a concept, that the current approach is to slice it into segments based on its applications. You can see three categories such as

  • Home and Personal IoT – this is probably the most prominent segment generating news every day, related to the Smart Home and personal-related care and analytics.
  • Industrial IoT – augmented reality, robotics, intelligent supply chains, 3D printing, etc.
  • Platforms IoT – all areas covering connectivity and networking, data processing, cloud, interfaces between the machines and the networks, APIs…

…And probably many more segments will appear in time.

Evolution of Internet of Things

Source: The Evolution of the Internet of Things, Casaleggio Associati (2011)

Value in Internet of Things

It is interesting to look out for business models that monetize the value of new technologies, such as IoT.

According to ABI Research which assessed the value chain for IoT, only 3% of its value lies in the connected hardware, 20% is in the connectivity, while 77% of the value will be in value added services. This is not a surprising split given that the potential revenue from sending data from a machine to another machine would be a fraction of a penny, and the margins will be even less.

I am intrigued how IoT will enable commercial innovation with the aim of providing customers with greater levels of flexibility and peace of mind.

So far, most of the monetization models discussed by service and hardware providers are fairly common and well tested by time. Undoubtedly, these will be rejuvenated but also superseded by new approaches to generate revenue. So which the core business models, that will drive monetization of IoT products and services?

Business models making Internet of Things tick

Usage based, also known as Pay-as-you-go

A very well-known model where the customer pays only for the amount of service used in a given period, with no commitment attached such as being locked into a subscription contract. It is easy to envisage how personal use of smart devices where the consumer does not want to own the device or industrial use of connected machines that are temporarily hired is linked to usage-based revenue models.

Do it for me (DIFM)

In my book, this model is going to experience an absolute renaissance as IoT matures. Businesses in all segments of IoT will compete to offer services to install, maintain, customise and repair the smart devices connected to the network. Given the sophistication of those devices, customers will be increasingly willing to use specialists to upgrade and maintain their devices plus further customise their gadgets.

In addition, the DIFM model will also cover Remote monitoring where companies and consumers may delegate the monitoring of their smart estates in order to prevent glitches and to cover support. This will further increase customer stickiness.


No business model attracts more customers than free! In IoT world, any basic version of the connected product may be given away for free in the hope of eventually persuading the customers to pay for a premium version carrying more features and functionality. Skype is a good current example of that. Its free version attracts highest volume of customers, while the smaller number of paying ‘premium’ customers generate the revenue, cross-financing the free offering.

Leveraging customer insight using data analytics

As security of personal and corporate data is more paramount than even, we can see even today ventures where data aggregation is used to predict or recommend a set of actions to an end customer. Given how many sensors with collect, store and pass on data from connected devices, there will be enormous amounts of domain data that can be used to create insights that help consumers improve their lives – e.g. energy efficiency tips or companies to meet business targets – e.g. supply chain efficiency.

Product as a service

An interesting report I found from Deutsche Telecom (see link below) says that “75 percent of new cars are now purchased through a finance agreement, with customers essentially paying for the personal experience of ‘owning’ a car rather than paying the one-off, upfront price”. Fast forward to the future, IoT will make this model even more mainstream. Instead of purchasing the smart hardware, companies and consumers may only pay for the experience of owning it for a set period of time before replacement with a newer model. Judging from leasing margins today, this may be a lucrative model for revenue generation.


This is the oldest trick in the book. You buy a product or a service, you pay for it and both sides in the transaction go on their merry ways. Just as you buy your Apple phone or Surface tablet, nothing can be compared to owning a new gadget….until the new model arrives. I believe manufacturers and device brands will try to skim the market for as long as possible selling smart devices as their novelty and exclusivity may drive higher margins.


Although this list covers some of the main revenue generation models, it is far from exclusive! If you work in IoT areas and you deal with its monetization and product strategies, I will be interested to lean which model will work for your company.

Meanwhile, some relevant articles on IoT business models:

Tech Crunch: “What can a toothbrush teach us about IoT business models?

Deutsche Telekom white paper: “How to Create Growth from the Connected Home


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