January 11, 2018

The Role of Network Service Providers In The Era Of The IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a whole ecosystem, covering a wide variety of components – from devices and sensors to communication gateways, network connections, and management platforms. For today’s average millennium, a mobile phone and broadband Internet are part of their basic needs. However, even a cursory glance at the history of telecommunications is enough to understand that its whole history lasts a little more than a hundred years.

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Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone in 1876, and in 1901 Marconi conducted the first session of transatlantic radio communication. Mobile networks were first introduced in 1979 when the first automated commercial cellular network appeared in Japan. Then, during the decades of the 80s-90s of the last century, such networks began to conquer the world. The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN. And today the number of mobile devices in the world exceeds 8 billion, while 3.7 billion of them are connected to the Internet.

Over the past few decades, telecommunications technologies and the Internet have simply had a revolutionary impact on human culture and trade relations. However, to those who consider this period revolutionary and think that the last hundred years were a period of phenomenal growth of telecommunication technologies and ways of using them, one should look at the forecasts for their future.

Ericsson’s mobile communications report, prepared in June 2017, contains a forecast that by the year 2022 there will be 29 billion connected devices in the world. About 10 billion of them will be telephones (mobile and fixed line), 1.7 billion will be personal computers, laptops and tablets, and the remaining 1.8 billion will be devices in the IoT category. These very IoT devices will include various automatic equipment, connected cars, meters, sensors, trading terminals, consumer electronics, wearable devices and much more. The Internet of things (IoT) has come seriously to the forefront of change, and it is developing, gaining more and more functionality all the time..

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the “interworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other devices, equipped with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and network connections that allow these devices to collect and share data.” The Internet of things is divided into short-range and long-range segments. The short-range segment mainly includes devices that are connected using unlicensed wireless technology with a coverage of 100 meters (using Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Bluetooth) or through fixed lines – such as LAN, PLC. The long-range segment includes devices connected using cellular communications, technologies of unlicensed low-power radio communications (LoRa, Sigfox) or satellite communication technologies.

The use of short-range or long-range solutions for IoT is determined by the requirements of the industry, vertical or a specific case. The same factors also depend on whether mass IoT or critical IoT applications will be used. Mass IoT applications can support a large number of connections with small amounts of traffic, using low-cost devices and low power consumption; At the same time, critical IoT applications have very different requirements for increased reliability, high availability, low latency and high throughput.

IoT applications are increasingly being used in a wide variety of industries and verticals – in transport management, home automation, self-propelled transport, general security and emergency services, healthcare, energy and utilities, agriculture, etc. They are used in a variety of cases:

  • Asset / Inventory Management and Remote Monitoring
  • preventive maintenance, health monitoring and results management
  • quality control and intellectual testing
  • increased operational efficiency and productivity
  • enhanced client control with the ability to easily access related information in real time
  • management of data and analytics for comprehensive analysis and forecasting
  • security and safety

All of the above are still evolutionary spheres and technologies, so in the future, we are waiting for new options for using these solutions and further evolution of existing ones.

The uniqueness of the IoT follows from its definition – “networking, networking of networks to ensure data collection and exchange”. IoT is an ecosystem consisting of various components – from devices and sensors to communication gateways, network connections and management platforms. The management platform should include additional capabilities for device management, connection management, data management and visualization, analytics, and external integration for data and information exchange.

The creation and management of such an ecosystem will require additional efforts to implement, integrate, manage, maintain and guarantee the security of the entire system. In fact, exchanging data and obtaining valuable information are various examples of using solutions by industry and vertical integration, which may ideally lead to the transformation of this ecosystem into an “IoT Ecosystem Network” (something like IoT World Wide Web). Thus, IoT will be able to generate new business models and open new opportunities in the market. And access service providers, who still feel good about connecting phones, PCs, tablets and other household devices, will have to come up with new ways to create and manage the IoT ecosystem and evolve with it as it becomes an ever-expanding network/web of IoT ecosystems.

In the meantime, in the period of the origin of the ecosystem, network service providers can carefully study the different approaches to IoT. Connectivity options are key responsibilities of network providers and their basic offer in the area of IoT solutions. Providers should be confident that they are ready to offer a wide range of connectivity options for IoT solutions. It’s about LTE-M, NB-IoT, unlicensed band LoRaWAN / Sigfox, and later – 5G. Currently, for the needs of IoT, most operators around the world use existing cellular technologies or are in the process of deploying or studying specific IoT solutions – such as LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRa / Sigfox. Individual providers are starting to test 5G.

The management platform – the main capabilities of the management platform are already available in the offerings of network service providers as part of their management offerings. However, the management platform needs much more – from device management to application management, to include improved IoT connection management, e2e data management and visualization, analytics and external integration. Providers around the world are currently in the process of creating such proposals – in full or partial form, in various forms of business partnerships, global alliances, on global platforms, etc. The management platform offerings help network service providers extend their IoT capabilities beyond simple connectivity, increasing their market opportunities and potential revenues, and offering their customers a more comprehensive range of IoT solutions.

The complex solution is that the network service provider offers all components of IoT solutions, from devices/sensors to gateways, network connections, and management platforms. However, for this, the network service provider must radically change its approach to work, developing additional opportunities in the field of infrastructure projects, organizational aspects, business models, partnerships, as well as in such areas as sales, solutions, maintenance, support and management, security. For example, American companies like AT&T and Verizon currently offer integrated solutions, using an ecosystem of partners, certified equipment suppliers, a developer community and developing their own infrastructure (network, platforms, etc.).

Industry / vertical approach – is that network service providers focus their efforts on certain industries/verticals for which they develop IoT solutions. In particular – on the healthcare, fleet management, connected cars. In the practical sphere, the most likely assumption is that network service providers will need to offer connectivity and management platforms for all solutions, but when formulating complex proposals they should focus on certain industries/verticals, based on available opportunities and market requests. For example, let’s take healthcare solutions from Deutsche Telekom. Another example is Vodafone, which provided communication services to more than 50 million IoT devices worldwide in the first half of this year, which was most active in the automotive, healthcare and utility sectors.

The next few years should show what impact IoT will have in the telecommunications industry and how network service providers will develop. However, we can safely say that they will go through trial and error, among them will be innovators and pioneers of new technologies, as well as those who prefer to learn from others’ experiences. The game begins!

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