What Does Internet of Things (IoT) Mean for the Telecom Industry

The skepticism surrounding the Internet of Things or IoT is dwindling as more companies are recognizing the benefits of this trend. In fact, as per a report by Goldman Sachs, IoT will connect nearly 28 billion devices or ‘things’ by the end of 2020. Its unprecedented development will have a profound implication in every industry from healthcare to home building. This will require some fundamental changes in the infrastructure provided by telecom companies. In this article, we will try to explore the implications that the Internet of Things will have on the telecom industry.

Internet of Things – A Perspective

It is a technology that connects the small and inert objects with an active network leading to enhanced data collection and management. It creates a dynamic global network based on standard communication protocols where virtual, and physical things possess interfaces and can be easily integrated into the existing information networks. IoT has come a long way from being touted as hype, to becoming the hard reality of contemporary connected world. It works in tandem with sensor technology that helps in leveraging the device interactivity for generating valuable data insights.

The Verticals of IoT Adoption

The surge in popularity of IoT is not sudden but extraordinary. Many significant transformations have taken place in the tech landscape enabling its rise to prominence. This transition was fueled by factors like cheap sensors, smartphones, cheap bandwidth, seamless wireless coverage, and adoption of IPv6 standards.

The Verticals of IoT Adoption

Image Source: Forbes

The implementation of IoT resulted in improved business operations and higher ROI. With communications at its epicenter, organizations are leveraging IoT deployments for realizing better value from the communication service providers.

Telecom: Connections of New ‘Things’ through 3GPP

The implementation and success of IoT in home and industrial applications largely rely on adoption of optimized LTE radio interfaces offered by 3GPP. This technology uses narrow band channels for providing wider geographical coverage to sensor-enabled devices. As a result, Narrow Band IoT (NB-IOT) has become a new buzzword for this industry.

When integrated into 4G LTE, they provide more coverage for shorter burst messages. The mobile operators need comprehensive solutions based on functionalities offered by Narrow Band IoT network and Narrow Band devices.

The complexities of network architecture can pose some challenges in this regard. The number of connected devices is increasing at an exponential rate; they need a consistent approach marked by enhanced visibility. C-SGN or Cellular IoT- Service Gateway Node has emerged as a viable solution. C-SGN can be implemented either as a combined gateway, or as a virtual network component. As a result, a chain of connected machines processing data and delivering enhanced services is created.

Recent years have also witnessed a transformative phase for the telecom industry. The 3G and 4G infrastructures have matured and companies are now looking to harness the latest upgrades to 5G infrastructure. The use cases of IoT in this vertical are endless. In this regard, the sudden emergence of Low Power Wide Area Network, or LPWAN, technologies makes sense. This technology can enable several possibilities from smart street lighting, to smart metering with reduced power consumption and wider coverage. In fact, LPWAN will have a lasting impact on smartphone technology. The figure given below explains the growth of this technology in the coming years.

Emergence of Low Power Wide Area Network or LPWAN Technologies

Source: Cisco

LPWAN technology can be employed for leveraging the opportunities, and cost benefits for telecom players. It offers a cost-effective method of serving low-power capabilities for connectivity. This affordable support for IoT will definitely open newer avenues of growth for this industry. At the same time, telecom companies are looking for other LTE iterations for IoT support.

On one hand, the leading players are adapting their LTE foundation for leveraging IoT. On the other, the new LPWAN service providers are offering competitive pricing and are thriving on rival networks. Hence, wireless CSPs are looking to work with licensed LTE networks for customization and cost benefits. They are also exploring the possibilities of integrating LTE CAT 1 and CAT 2 IoT protocols as well as CAT NB1 for LPWAN networks.

The Future of IoT in Telecom Industry

The merger of these two quadrants can offer multiple benefits for the organizations. This collaborative advancement can add substantial value to this ecosystem. The IoT environment is largely dependent on wireless communications offering IP-based networking solutions. These systems work in sync with managed services. The customization of these solutions is witnessed only in massive industrial setups where hardwired local area connections are deployed for seamless connectivity, high security, and technological edge.

The Challenges for Service Providers

This is a rewarding configuration relying on communications strategy offering cost advantages along with availability of modular systems.  The updated sensors are integrated for enhancing user experiences. When used within varied networks, these devices will become hard to manage. However, enhanced communication can mitigate this challenge by offering improved interactions with sensors. Hence, managed control is essential for complex communications between devices.

The current pricing models are volume-based but, in an improved connectivity landscape, companies will need to streamline these models for performance-based pricing. Also, there will be challenges for improving the data communication at the desired speed and latency. The technical difficulties will also affect their efficiency since companies need to provide functionality for high-end IoT applications and devices.

The NB-IoT devices installed in industrial systems and home security sensors demand consistent monitoring as well. They require a stringent approach to connectivity. The telecom service providers can offer Service Level Agreements, or SLA, to suffice these demands for such data-rich devices.

The Solutions

There are currently more than 422 operators working in 143 countries for commercial 4G services. Network carriers are leveraging LTE for enhanced performances. In this regard, unlicensed LTE operators offer industry friction by optimizing the unlicensed spectrums. The overload of networks can be passed on to these underutilized spectrums through carrier aggregation. This technology called License Assisted Access, is included in 3GPP Release 13 as well. However, the coexistence of Wi-Fi networks with LTE will pose some challenges regarding interferences. Though, LTE-U forum has formulated specifications for equitable distribution of spectrum.

Despite the challenges, there are many possibilities waiting to be explored in the domain of IoT for telecom industry. The managed services relying on cost-optimization techniques, and the latest technologies, will facilitate the service providers in deployment of IoT solutions from a long-term perspective. Their scalability will play a crucial role in this regard.