What Impact Will IoT Technology Have on Your Network?

According to one estimate, the IoT (Internet of Things) could generate nearly $2.0 trillion in revenue for mobile operators worldwide ($1.8 trillion, to be exact). That’s ‘trillion’ with a ‘t.’ And that estimate is from 2017. Prognosticators have only gotten more bullish about IoT technology’s potential in the last couple of years—and it’s not hard to figure out why. As this technology moves from its initial deployment in primarily industrial contexts into people worldwide’s homes and businesses, the number of connected devices at work worldwide continues to grow in massive numbers. There are already tens of billions of them, and by McKinsey’s reckoning, 127 new devices are connected every second.

This presents a set of incredible opportunities for telco operators. Not only does it put you in a position to provide more robust services to factories, transportation networks, and entire cities and towns, it gives you new opportunities to add value for your subscribers. Yes, the average revenue per device connection will drop off in the IoT era, but the sheer volume must be reasonably enticing. All that said, this seismic shift in the way people access telecommunications networks won’t be without its challenges. Offering up the right services for IoT users will involve grappling with new standards and expectations—to say nothing of effectively verifying service.  

What is NB-IoT?

Okay, first things first, what changes will you have to make to your network to accommodate the new kind of traffic associated with the IoT? After all, you will be dealing with increased device volume, much of it from devices that have to conserve power (so that users don’t have to replace or recharge their batteries frequently). This particular challenge—offering connectivity that doesn’t drain the device battery as rapidly as typical cell network usage—has led to the rise of LPWAN, which stands for low-power wide-area network. This is more or less what it sounds like: a type of wireless network designed to empower long-range, low bit rate communication at low power.

The 3GPP has already set a standard for LPWAN networks as a larger component of its NB-IoT standard. At this moment, NB-IoT is the go-to for most IoT-centric offerings. Critically, this standard doesn’t use LTE technology, leading to increased costs when you’re first rolling out your service. At the same time, NB-IoT deployments don’t require gateways in the same way that standards like LTE-M and LTE-V (both designed to use LTE bands) were explicitly conceived for manufacturing and vehicles, respectively) do, which has the potential to keep costs in check. Of course, the standards mentioned above are designed around solving the same set of concerns, precisely:

  • Avoiding frequency interference, such that devices can maintain high-quality connections;
  • Maintaining communication at long ranges, particular for use cases like autonomous vehicles;
  • Suiting the specific needs of any particular use case, e.g., powering higher bandwidth usage for something like video surveillance.

Given the fragmentation of use cases and devices, there’s no one-size-fits-all method of preparing your network for the IoT—which means you’re going to have to consider your target use cases and subscribers care