If you’re a CSP and you’re not thinking about IoT, wake up!

If you’re a communications service provider (CSP) and you’re not thinking about your role in the internet of things (IoT), you should be, says Emily Soelberg, Assistant Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions, AT&T. She was speaking at TM Forum’s Innovation InFocus in Dallas earlier this week.

According to a study by McKinsey, 98 percent of enterprise executives are thinking about IoT.

“If you’re not [working on IoT initiatives], I’d argue you need to be,” Soelberg says. “This is industry changing. Smart, connected products are changing how value is created.”

Soelberg points to forecasts that anticipate 20 billion or more connected devices by 2020 – which is right around the corner. So far, AT&T has certified 3,000 different types of connected devices and supports more than 30 million devices on its network. She also points to IDC’s forecast of $1.4 trillion in IoT spending in 2021.

“When you see trillion in the forecast, it includes not only direct monetization of component parts like devices and software applications, but also reflects the value of some sort of efficiency or cost savings,” Soelberg explains. “A lot of companies that adopt will be saving money, opening new markets or introducing some other value.”

What do customers need?

CSPs can play a key role in helping enterprise customers figure out how to harness the power of IoT, Soelberg says. The key is abstracting the complexity for them.

When it comes to connectivity, for example, AT&T has identified several factors that are important to customers.

Low-cost, high-throughput or low latency – some IoT applications like package tracking require very low-cost devices, while others like remote surgery need high throughput and require very low latency.

Coverage – CSPs need to ask: Does your device need wide area coverage? Are you OK being stationary? Do you need it to be able to work domestically or globally?

Mobility – “With mobility, does the device need to be in motion? Is it on a vehicle where you’ve got to have live hand-offs? That significantly increases the complexity of the telecom behind it,” Soelberg says.

Security – This is the No. 1 barrier to enterprises adopting IoT. Soelberg points to the breach a year ago that targeted connected devices in the home such as baby monitors.

Automated pairing – How can CSPs make use of devices seamless and automatic. “When you pick up your phone, it just works, but when you pick up your Fitbit, you’ve got to pair it to your Wi-Fi.” Device makers and consumers, alike, need for pairing to be automated.

Lack of interference – CSPs need to ask the what IoT device’s tolerance is for interference. Technology operating in licensed spectrum bands are the most reliable, while those operating in unlicensed bands may be more prone to interference.

Form factor – the size of the device can also determine which kind of technology is best suited for the application.

Battery life – Battery life is increasing significantly (see below).

Soelberg then went on to illustrate how adept specific technologies like LTE and Wi-Fi are at addressing the requirements.

Innovations spurring change

Soelberg points to five innovations that will change everything when it comes to IoT. They include:

  1. Drastic reductions in cost
  2. Significant increases in battery life
  3. Decreasing form factor
  4. Improvements in throughput and reduction in latency
  5. Global enablement
Cost declines

The cost of an LTE module in 2015 was about $30 and last year it dropped to about $25. Today, with LTE-M – the simplified term for the LTE-MTC low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology standard published by 3GPP – the cost has dropped to $7.50 for a module that’s inclusive of SIM and IP. The cost of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules is around $5.

“We’re approaching what the cost-structure would be for some of these alternate technologies,” Soelberg says. “Think about the impact of going from something that was $30 all the way down (to $5).”

Batteries improve

Today battery life for a typical IoT device is about 12 days. With LTE-M, it’s possible to reach 10 years. “That’s pretty amazing and would change the entire structure of how the cellular network communicates,” she says.

Size decreases

Soelberg showed the slide below depicting how much smaller IoT modules are becoming.

5G will bring improvements

Throughput will increase and latency will drop significantly as CSPs roll out 5G. Throughput is expected to increase from 100 Mbit/s today to 10 Gbit/s, and latency will drop to less than 5 milliseconds. These improvements will enable many new applications. Soelberg gave an example of a remote medicine application where a first responder streams video that requires an instant response. That application can’t be supported today.

Going global

Devices require more global connectivity than people and phones and the connectivity is complex. In the case of connected car, if a car needs to feed stats about parts back to a central dealer location, that’s easily done through permanent roaming, Soelberg points out. “But as soon as I want to make the car a Wi-Fi hotspot for the users of that car, it triggers different regulatory rules and infrastructure requirements.”

CSPs are making progress in this area through the GSMA 3.1 Remote Provisioning Architecture for Embedded UICC Technical Specification. “The GSMA 3.1 spec enables us to solve for regulatory gaps by rehoming a device onto a different operator network seamlessly,” she says. “This is coming to a maturity level.”

What’s next?

Soelberg concluded her presentation by giving three examples of what’s possible as a result of these improvements. She pointed to home automation, wearables and utilities.

“When the iPhone first came out…the way they articulated the power of having an accelerometer in your phone was the iBeer app. That was the best that Apple could come up with at the time,” she says. “The question for all of us is: If the examples I gave are iBeer, what’s next?”


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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