IoT: It’s time to get serious
Although we’ve been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for more than a few years, much of the telecoms industry is still scrambling to integrate IoT into their systems with the same thorough engineering as other equipment and technologies. Today, with the IoT gold rush fully underway, CIOs and network operations managers are realizing the need for comprehensive IoT solutions that can provide a suite of IoT-related functions, including data collection, event processing, device management, data contextualization, data analytics, end-to-end security and applications enablement.
Holistic, end-to-end IoT management has been slow to get off the ground in part because IoT devices are often so simple. Hooking one up to the network is trivial; thus, they’ve been easy to ignore. Serious engineering issues only appear when you get into hundreds of thousands and millions of them, which is still (mostly) in the future. In the early days of IoT, many operators adopted point solutions for managing specific IoT applications. In hindsight, this was a stopgap approach that won’t scale when the number of applications is in the hundreds or thousands.
The other explanation for the delay is related to standards, which are the bedrock of our industry. They’ve taken time to develop, as is normal, and are only now being reflected in the later releases of 4G. A full architectural accommodation of large-scale IoT will only be realized with 5G. The good news is that we now know what that architecture will look like and can prepare for it.
Speaking of the numbers for IoT, the sky is the limit and estimates vary wildly; however, the current ITU IMT-2020 proposed minimum standard for 5G networks is to support one million connections per square kilometre1 — definitely not a trivial engineering problem!
As the current market leader in device management2, with over 1.5 billion devices under management and more than 120,000 device models in our library, we have not only been involved in IoT standards developments, but have been working closely with our operator customers to build out a fully engineered platform for large-scale IoT deployments.
Industrial IoT, smart city technologies, utilities and automotive are the hottest segments for the industry. This is both a B2B and B2C market for most operators.
In the consumer space, operators need to move away from physical SIMs for logistical reasons given the scale of IoT and to support popular handset providers as they begin to deliver eSIM equipped devices in quantity. Operators are ready to embrace eSIMs but need a solid platform for deploying and managing them.
On the enterprise front, machine-to-machine (M2M) is the focus today but enterprises will also be rolling out IoT applications and services to their own customers, so we will be quickly moving beyond industrial automation.
Analytics and network automation will play a critical role in this market because of the extreme scale of IoT deployments. IoT devices are expected to out-number classic mobile devices on the network by orders of magnitude. Thus, big data analytic techniques, bolstered by AI and machine learning, will be necessary to drive network optimization and efficiency, including proactive, automated actions. IoT may prove to be the key driver that gets network operations management to finally embrace automation.
What most operators are looking for is an end-to-end solution that integrates connectivity management with IoT device management. It should include support for hybrid access schemes, aggregating cellular (NB-IoT/SCEF, LTE-M and LTE), unlicensed spectrum (LoRa, Wi-Fi, CBRS, MulteFire) as well as specific home solutions such as Zigbee and Z-wave. As we prepare for a 5G world, the platform also has to fully leverage technologies such as SDN/NFV, multi-edge computing (MEC) and carrier ethernet mobile backhaul (MBH).
At Nokia, we are of course in the thick of all these technologies, whether its mobile or fixed networking, device management, security or customer care. We’ve approached IoT holistically because we believe it will be transformative, not simply an add-on or overlay to our existing network operations. And, as if our own convictions weren’t enough, this is what our customers are telling us as well.
The numbers are occasionally frightening. Many of the applications being proposed will connect major portions of our society’s critical infrastructure to the network. Security is crucial. Failures due to mismanagement will not be tolerated when our health care, transportation, energy and industrial sectors are built around IoT. With our IMPACT IoT platform, we believe our customers will have a comprehensive solution with the capabilities to rise to this challenge and overcome the complexity and scale inherent with supporting multiple IoT applications. Most importantly, it will allow them to compete and thrive in this disruptive and innovative market.
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