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January 18, 2018

IoT: Connecting the Dots

By Tom Ball

Approximately 7.5 billion of those devices will access a cellular IoT core network, which is three times greater than the number of LTE-connected smartphones today. Over the past 20 years, end user demand has influenced a wave of game changing technologies for service providers, including the explosion of Over-The-Top (OTT) applications on smartphones and the rise of SMS. IoT is in the same bracket, if not out on its own as the future of the world of technology.

The telecoms industry will be feeling the heat if predictions by the media and analysts on its rate of growth are proven true. IoTs role in anchoring connections from device to device and the core will be pivotal. This responsibility warrants questions, such as what are the ramifications if connections are lost? And how do service providers ensure that consumers do not have to deal with the impact of potential downtime?


Telecoms is the glue of the connected world

Industries are keen to jump on the IoT bandwagon and it’s no surprise with predictions that total M2M revenue opportunity is forecast to reach $1.6 trillion in 2024 –  a 12 per cent increase, up from $500 billion in 2014. It is essential that any teething problems are recognised and resolved, Telecoms has been identified as the glue that will hold the connected world together.

IoT: Connecting the dotsVodafone recently launched into the consumer side of IoT with their new “V by Vodafone” bundle, whereby consumers are charged for the number of connected devices they add to their monthly plan. Vodaphone won’t be the last company to branch into IoT, consumers are just one of many drivers behind this.


Saying no to the possibility of latency

Highly reliable connectivity is key for the true benefits of IoT to be recognised. In a similar way to networks dealing with voice calls, device connection must be reliable and strong to avoid latency, and on hand immediately when called upon.  Devices vary depending on their throughput requirements, use case, power consumption and the service requirements across various IoT applications.

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There are two categories that these applications can be placed into: data throughput and connectivity. Connectivity is key for the wide range of applications that have not got a high tolerance of latency. These include: vehicle control and telematics; industrial robotics and environmental control; location-based marketing and advertising; smart home control; augmented and virtual reality; and remote personal healthcare, remote surgery and some wearables. It’s extremely important that operators have the right tools in place that target latency control, reliability improvement and authentication for such applications.


Keeping on top of traffic

Operators must understand how to build a network that will be able to handle with the level of IoT traffic expected. The connections are low speed and low volume, but it’s the sheer number of them that’s likely to cause concern. The devices may only want to transmit a small amount of data but the vast amount of them could have a detrimental result. The underlying transmission protocol, SCTP (Stream Control Transmission Protocol), must be able to support the overwhelming number of IoT and M2M connections trying to access the core network concurrently.

IoT: Connecting the dots

Operators that are not prepared will be faced with a potentially severe ‘bottleneck’ in their network. There are rudimentary issues with Diameter signalling that have the potential to cause mass disruption to the network, which could lead to a diminished Quality of Experience (QoE) for network subscribers and a potential loss in revenue for the operator.

Operators must ensure they have a reliable GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) in order to address data throughput issues. A critical requirement in the performance of 3G and 4G networks, especially for IoT and M2M traffic management and load balancing in the core network, is the acceleration of GTP tunnels and offloading GTP data traffic. Removing bottlenecks in the network increases performance and supporting differentiated services improves QoE.


The key to authenticity is security

Operators must ensure a secure connection that is fully authenticated, and have the ability to handle thousands of connections from the IoT devices into the core network.  With the SCTP protocol, authentication chunks designated in RFC 4895 secure SCTP-based associations from packet injection, hijacking or accidental disconnection, secures millions of simultaneous associations required by today’s IoT networks.

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According to GSMA’s IoT Security Guidelines for Network Operators, in order to meet the lifetime expectation of IoT service provider’s endpoint devices, network authentication algorithms should be implemented. Operators will provide a level of service that end users will expect and demand if they adhere to these requirements.


Preparation for the future

To accommodate the phenomenon that is the Internet of Things, the telecoms industry is undergoing huge changes. A demand by both consumers and businesses has caused huge pressure to be placed on the telecoms industry, which is responsible for ensuring the connection between device to the core is strong and reliable. With the number of connected devices set to quadruple in size by 2024, this may be the portent for operators that they needed. They need to have the correct protocols in place to ensure that connection is not a problem for applications that have a low tolerance to latency, and contemplate SCTP and GTP procedures that will help lessen this pressure.

It is incrementally important that basic network requirements, such as a reliable signalling method and secure authentication, are fully functional and equipped for IoT technology to run effectively as new devices and applications that require network connectivity develop.

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