For my recent report for TM Forum, The roadmap of options: Monetizing and managing IoE services, we asked service providers which new technologies they consider most important for the Internet of Everything (IoE).
While many new technologies will enable a wider range of Internet of Everything (IoE) services, some of them will also pose interesting challenges for implementation. Technologies like 5G, LoRa (low power radio access) and millimeter wave will help to extend device connectivity and add network capabilities, but choosing the most appropriate and cost-effective technology for each IoE service can make or break a business case.
For example, non-critical services like sensor-equipped vending machines or water level and air quality monitoring will have completely different requirements for reliability than mission- critical services like remote patient monitoring or safety systems for connected cars.
We asked respondents an open- ended question but gave some suggestions including 5G, virtualization and low-power wide area network (LPWAN). Not surprisingly, the largest number of respondents ranked 5G as most important (see infographic).
Let’s take a look at the potential impact of these technologies in more detail:
The 5G Effect
Next-generation 5G technology will play a crucial part in shaping the future for real-time IoT/IoE applications because it promises fast, reliable, always-on connectivity over a mobile network. SIM-based applications like connected cars, infotainment, vehicle telematics and augmented reality will benefit from its seamless mobility and high payload capacity. The technology is also highly scalable and reliable and offers very low latency.
5G is suitable for wide-band, high data-rate applications, where range is not an issue. But even though 5G devices will consume less energy than 4G/LTE devices, they will still require more power than devices that are designed specifically for low-power networks. This makes 5G unsuitable for some small, battery- powered devices that need to operate for several years without maintenance, such as those installed in hard-to-reach locations. However, if a 5G device is permanently connected to a vehicle or some other continuous power source, energy consumption will not be an issue.
Benefits of low-power networks
Low-power access networks are especially good for connecting devices that consume little battery power. LPWAN provides connectivity over a long range for low data rate applications such as the battery-operated sensors that measure liquid levels in remote agricultural or industrial storage tanks. These types of sensors send tiny amounts of data very occasionally and need to run for years on a single battery. The LoRa Alliance has developed LoRaWAN as an LPWAN standard.
Narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) is another LPWAN technology and an emerging standard produced by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for low-power communication between IoT devices. The main features of the technology are good indoor coverage, long reach, low latency, long device battery life and support for large numbers of devices. NB-IoT is a cost-effective solution for network operators because it can use cell site infrastructure that’s in place already such as masts, antennas and baseband equipment.
Network functions virtualization (NFV), software-defined networking (SDN) and cloud technologies promise to radically change communications service providers’ networks and back- office environments from a physical world of dedicated hardware and siloed support systems to one where everything is software-based and easy to change.
NFV allows network functions to be instantiated on-demand, when and where they are needed, enabling networks and services to be rapidly created while making efficient use of computing resources. This is good news for the IoE. As the number of devices starts to mushroom, networks will need to scale rapidly and on-demand.
SDN with its unified control plane will allow IoE applications to set priorities for machine-to-machine communications, ensuring that each service (including non-IoE services) receives the appropriate level of priority for forwarding its data traffic through the network. This is how 5G network slicing will be accomplished.
A major challenge for service providers is having to manage hybrid networks made up of both physical and virtual components during the transition from physical to virtual networks, which could take ten years or more to complete.
Service providers will rely on cloud-based service orchestration using automated processes to provision new services across these hybrid networks and rapid, real time updates along with tightly integrated service assurance functions.
Public access Wi-Fi is on the rise and the IEEE 802.11 standard and variants of it are likely to stay around for some time to come, which is why so many IoT device manufacturers are also making use of the technology. Uses include home security and other connected home applications like solar panel monitors where the device is likely to remain close in proximity to a Wi-Fi access point during normal operation.
Wi-Fi is inexpensive to operate and doesn’t require any special network technology beyond a Wi-Fi connection and a household power adaptor. Security also has been a concern. Recently, however, the Wi-Fi Alliance has introduced a low power, long range version of Wi-Fi called Wi-Fi HaLow, which is designed to extend Wi-Fi solutions for IoT.
Big data and predictive analytics
Predictive analytics using statistical machine-learning algorithms can be applied to most types of historical data to support a wide range of use cases from sales forecasts and marketing campaigns, to social media trending, usage hot- spots, diagnostic information, fault management and so on. This in turn can drive strategic, operational and tactical decisions across the business.
In the case of omnichannel, for example, artificial intelligence can be applied to determine customer behavior, user experience or product and service usage trends. “By analyzing more data we can significantly improve the customer experience,” says Rigas Parathyras, Lead Digital Architecture, Liberty Global. “Not only can we be more proactive at the help desk by calling the customer before they call us, [we can]even automate problem resolution.”
Several TM Forum Catalyst projects have been looking at using analytics to improve customer centricity for applications including IoE. In addition, the Analytics Big Data Repository project focuses on standardizing a structured data lake so that service providers will be able to quickly and cheaply implement and test new, innovative analytics ideas and services.
Blockchain: The next big thing?
A key issue when it comes to monetizing the IoE is how to handle trillions of dollars’ worth of transactions, many of them for very small amounts, while maintaining security and privacy expectations. As Craig Bachmann, Senior Director, Open Digital Program, TM Forum points out in this article, a distributed ledger technology like blockchain could be the answer.
First developed for bitcoin, blockchain is a highly distributed database that can handle huge volumes of tamper-proof records in a continuously growing list. Instead of a central authority maintaining a single ledger recording participants’ bitcoin ownership and transfers, there is a ‘community of witnesses’ which together record transactions.
This could work for high-volume IoE data transactions that require privacy and security – for example, individual transfers of collision-avoidance data for autonomous vehicles that must remain anonymous and untraceable.
Analysys Mason has outlined nine areas where network operators could use blockchain technology, such as for OSS/BSS processes like billing, eSIM provisioning and number portability databases or in micropayment-based business models for digital assets like music, mobile games, gift cards and loyalty points.
What do you think: Which new technologies do you consider most important for the Internet of Everything?