We are often told that NB-IoT and then 5G MMTC will give mobile operators a new way to open up markets in what is now known as Industrial IoT. The thinking goes that new network access technologies, either dedicated to or optimised for IoT use cases, will give mobile operators the opportunity to provide a connectivity layer to businesses. They can then enrich this with analytics, security, other value adds, to build service propositions that currently don’t exist.
The issue for operators is – they have never really been very good at selling to businesses. What makes them think that Industrial IoT will go differently for them?
Derek Long, of Cambridge Consultants, has taken a look at what lies ahead for mobile operators as they seek to unlock this Industrial IoT opportunity. First off is to provide the connectivity reliability and availability that Industrial IoT applications will require – and this will require planning and dimensioning of the sort that operators currently cannot sustain. Additionally, Long writes, “In order to adequately address this opportunity MNOs will have to meet higher requirements for reliable and secure connectivity and have the ability to make analytics and automation available.”
Read the article below, the first of a series, to hear Long’s thoughts on the challenges that await operators that are considering a foray into the Industrial IoT market.
Industrial IoT poses additional challenges for mobile operators
By, Derek Long, Head of Telecoms and Mobile, Cambridge Consultants.
For a long time Mobile Network Operators have been looking to gain access to the enterprise market from their macro networks and so unlock the very high ARPUs traditionally generated by enterprises. Examples of technologies which have been used include direct PBX connectivity, DAS, small cells and more recently VoWifi. With the exception of small cells these technologies address the provision of voice services, whilst data services have been provided through LAN or Wi-Fi connectivity.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, MNOs typically have organisations geared to the efficient acquisition, rollout and operation of macro cell sites. It’s difficult for such an organisation to handle small cell implementations with their different requirements such as Ethernet backhaul, standard mains electricity supply and integration into the enterprise’s networked security. Any given building may be treated as a single implementation but may require a number of small cell base stations to be covered adequately. Furthermore, providing coverage within larger buildings may require individual coverage planning on a building by building basis and although there are tools which facilitate this it is still a manually intensive activity which operators are not geared up for. Finally there is the question of which organisation is going to manage the combined network. Whilst operators are prepared to perform this activity as part of the service provision it might be difficult for the IT department to delegate access to important data systems to an external party. There may well be the requirement for legal as well as operational responsibilities to be clearly differentiated.
The result is that it has been found to be far simpler to provide coverage from external macro cell sites to the building and smartphone data users either connect as an external UE via the external network or via the Wi-Fi network which has the added advantage for the enterprise of controlling the costs of mobile data usage.
Challenges of Industrial IoT
The challenges faced in an enterprise environment are only increased in an Industrial IoT (I-IoT) setting. I-IoT involves the connection and integration of sensors and controllers of machinery to the IT network and with the IT systems upon which many business processes rely. With sensors, but more critically with controllers, there is a far higher requirement on the reliability and accuracy of the control of the equipment. Not only is it important that the embedded intelligence in the machine is secure and reliable, the connectivity between the network service and the product has to be reliable. The embedded intelligence also has to be resilient to be able to cope with imperfect connectivity reliability and has to be able to handle a situation in which, for example, the heartbeat signal from the server was lost. The final challenge is that the IT systems will have far greater access to sensor information and will even be able to perform actions over the controlled machines or processes based on the information they receive from the sensors.
In order to adequately address this opportunity MNOs will have to meet higher requirements for reliable and secure connectivity and have the ability to make analytics and automation available to make use of the additional data and control either directly or in cooperation with partners. Thorough, reliable connectivity throughout the enterprise is a prerequisite without which I-IoT will be unachievable. This requires network planning and optimisation to ensure good signal strength in all areas as well as controlled RF planning to ensure interference between cell sites does not cause deterioration of the communications link.
When business critical processes are dependent on the reliable operation of wireless connectivity then planning, installation and integration is necessary for which MNO’s are currently not dimensioned
Technologies exist which allow such networks to be self-provisioning, self-organising and self-optimising and this has proved a useful technique for best effort type services such as mobile broadband. However, when business critical processes are dependent on the reliable operation of wireless connectivity then planning, installation and integration is necessary for which MNO’s are currently not dimensioned. The additional overhead to integrate the connectivity network with the IT systems and to develop data analytics and other digital services are further outside the realm of the operator.
Best effort type communications is insufficient and the connectivity technology needs to be able to support the necessary quality of service and latency required by the connected equipment. Typically the use of schedulers in base stations ensures a given capacity on the air interface is secured for each user. The air interface frame structure also needs to enable fast network and service response times so as to ensure tight equipment control.
At Cambridge Consultants we have extensive experience of the development of highly reliable high performance connectivity and control solutions for the I-IoT. In the next article we will further explore the technology options available for high quality and reliability communications.