In the recent years, telecommunication services have transitioned from basic traditional telephony (voice and text services) to multi-media services (such as HD voice, HD Video, chat, presence, etc.), Internet of Things (IoT) and other next generation services. In addition, the number of devices used for accessing and using the services have also increased drastically in the recent years from regular laptops and phones to Tablets, Smartphones, Wearables , M2M/IoT devices and many more. The advent of M2M/IoT services and devices have further brought complexity to Telco services offerings, and hence requires a new network architecture, thinking and continual design and optimization of all layers of the network to hold key high performance and quality of service delivery to the end-users. The challenge for Telcos is how to provide efficient network infrastructure that can support all those M2M/IoT devices and services with better QoS and network performance while reducing their high churn rates and increase their low ARPU.
Telcos now pay a lot of attention to the IoT, which is considered to be one of the services that is expected to boost by 5G. Let’s discuss the benefits and challenges the IoT brings for Telcos and how Tata Communications Transformation Services (TCTS) can help Telcos and OTT players to meet their goals.
1. Implementation Challenges
There are several different IoT technologies (LoRa, Zigbee, SigFox, cellular, 6LowPAN, Z-wave and etc.) in the market, but it is witnessed that most Telcos are already depending on 3GPP based cellular technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, though this has its own benefits and challenges. Using 3GPP is gaining momentum as Telcos have an underlying infrastructure that facilitates less implementation cost, for RAN and Core build-out perspective, and quicker service introduction to the market even though the implementation is slow for both network and device . Though 3GPP based technologies may not be suitable for some of the IoT business cases. For example, some smart farming applications in rural areas, due to the fact that the current cellular network coverage in rural areas in many countries are very poor and as a result it requires a lot of investment to fill the coverage gap. However, this type of gap in coverage can be filled with other type of technologies such as LoRa technology that is relatively inexpensive to deploy and provides a larger coverage range than cellular network, better end-device battery life which fits better in business cases. Combining different technologies depending on business cases can benefit the Telcos if they seamlessly integrate the technologies into a common OSS/BSS infrastructure with their existing services. Else the network becomes complex and can be costly to manage and operate. So the question is, will 3GPP technology be enough to cover every aspect of the IoT business, or do Telcos need to look at other technologies such as LoRa, Zigbee and others, to be able to capture wide range of business cases? If they do that, then they need to make sure that seamless integration and interoperability standards are in place.
New IoT technologies do not require expensive spectrum licensing fees in some countries, unlike cellular spectrum licensing fees that costs billions of dollars. This provides an ease of entry for new players in the market, who can build the infrastructure rapidly and offer services at a competitive price. This is majorly being witnessed now in the US and Europe. There are a lot of business potential for Telcos, in healthcare and enterprise segment, but these services are in direct competition by OTT and Media & Cable companies or a new entrant in the market. So Telcos are challenged for a bigger market share in already fierce competitive landscape. TCTS has noticed (while working with many Telcos around the world supporting the IoT deployment, management and operation) that Telcos still lack compelling business cases for IoT. What and how they are going to offer the services to their end-users? Why would end consumers have to pay more for Telcos services, while they can get for free or much cheaper price from other players in the market? How to bundle IoT and existing service? How IoT increases their ARPU and other questions?
3. Roaming & Inter-operability
There is a business potential for Telcos in roaming to generate revenues by allowing new players and visitors use their existing infrastructure, but international roaming framework (how to identify and route IoT messages when a device is visiting another IoT operator’s network; how the home and visited networks charge each other, etc.) between IoT network operators is not in place yet. Telcos can leverage the exiting roaming architecture for data and voice, but the IoT and 5G advanced services require new network architecture with different type of QoS and network performance requirement. The LoRa alliance has suggested a couple of roaming options for LoRa network operators, but it will have its own challenges due to interoperability issues between different LoRa frequency bands used in different countries. For example, Europe uses 868 MHz band, while US uses the 915 MHz band. Otherwise, it will be difficult to track, e.g. baggage or an asset monitoring by an airline seamlessly through various networks due to frequency band differences in different countries if the tracking device doesn’t support all the bands.
The other challenge is that roaming between different IoT technologies (3GPP NB-IoT, LoRa, Zigbee, etc.) requires a lot of standard bodies (3GPP, LoRa Alliance, Zigbee, etc.) coordination and collaboration to have seamless IoT roaming across the world.
TCTS manages one of the largest Indian operator’s IoT network and understands the complexity of IoT architecture and partnership ecosystem and knows how to tackle some of the design and deployment challenges. TCTS has a technology and vendor agnostic model when it comes to IoT network roll out and has a proven experience in managing partner ecosystems needed to run enterprise grade IoT services in an agile and cost effective manner.