M2M services and devices are surging.
According to analysts Berg Insight, the number of wireless M2M subscribers increased by 30% in 2016, reaching nearly 400 million connections. This growth is expected to continue with CAGR of more than 26% until at least 2021. As a result, Berg Insight predicts that there's going to be a dramatic increase in the number of M2M connections and devices - and the overall population will soon exceed 1 billion.
Analysts and forecasters may disagree about the detail, but they are unanimous about one thing: IoT and M2M connections and devices are set to explode. Mobile network operators (MNOs) have to prepare for this and define the role they will play, while carefully managing the associated costs of deploying IoT technology that will enable this massive expansion. In particular, even while they build out new capacity optimized for IoT services, they also have to consider the potential impact on quality that these new devices might have for the existing mobile customer base.
M2M device growth is also associated with service diversity
There will be a wide range of IoT applications, each of them having different requirements regarding cost, coverage and connectivity performance. These will range from simple devices sending only a few bits per day as remote sensors, all the way to critical IoT applications, which will have higher demands for reliability and for very low latency, such as connected vehicles. This translates to some key challenges that MNOs will have to tackle in order to plan additional investment in their radio networks, so that they can capture the most revenues from this new IoT market. These include:
- Which IoT access technologies can better support the new IoT services they want to offer?
- How do these compare in terms of required investment, coverage and capacity?
- Can their networks support this dramatic expansion of the user population without impacting perceived smartphone performance and their existing device fleet?
- How can they upgrade existing cellular networks in the most cost effective manner to support billions of small IoT devices and to embrace this new revenue opportunity?
Different M2M and IoT technologies have emerged
There are several contrasting approaches to connecting wireless IoT devices to contend with. Some will use licensed spectrum access techniques, such as NB-IoT or LTE-M based on the evolution of 3GPP cellular technologies, while others will capitalize on unlicensed access, such as proprietary LPWA radio, including LoRa and Sigfox.
All of this must be given careful consideration when it comes to the coverage, performance and capacity that they can be expected to deliver in live environments. Unlicensed spectrum is also likely to be used by other providers, but even if MNOs are not directly responsible for all services, they need to build the right capacity to support partners who need MNO networks for backhaul from local access points.
Planning for M2M and IoT services is essential
Of primary importance is to plan ahead. MNOs must develop their coverage and network capacity plans today, not after the fact. They need to be sure that they have the right tools in place to model different scenarios, spanning capacity demands and the location of coverage, so that they can be ready for the expected massive deployment of IoT devices and ensure that there is no disruption to their existing subscriber base while meeting the coverage, reliability and connectivity performance requirements (throughput, latency, capacity, and more) of the IoT applications they plan to rollout. They have to start now - tomorrow will be too late. Delaying preparation can only increase the costs associated with optimizing networks that were not designed correctly from the outset.
Infovista leads the way, to help you plan and launch a rich service portfolio
Infovista has provided leadership in this field for a number of years. Planet is a reliable, award-winning RF network planning and optimization software solution used by MNOs and equipment vendors to design and optimize complex, multi-technology radio access networks. It includes comprehensive support for wireless IoT standards, including variants such as NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRa and Sigfox.
As such, Planet enables MNOs to effectively plan network RF coverage and capacity for IoT networks and applications, so that they can support their own services as well as those of partners who need access to their networks, without disruption to existing users.
Validate and assess your business case
Of course, this dramatic growth represents the next major opportunity for MNOs, but it also requires careful investment. This means that it's essential to validate and assess the business case behind the required network expenditure. Planet helps, first on the radio access side, because it offers unprecedented radio modeling accuracy, which means that MNOs can plan costs more efficiently, covering variables such as the number of devices network can support, the number and the optimum location of radio sites, as well as forecasting RAN dimensioning to allow for future growth. Some key planning and optimization functions can also be fully automated, leveraging live network data. This enables cell site planning, including the positioning and optimization of radio cells based on customer requirements, to easily be achieved.
Model and compare business scenarios
Second, in addition to this, Planet also allows different scenarios to be modelled and compared. MNOs need to be able to understand both the technical and financial implications of delivering IoT services with different quality and coverage targets. By allowing users to change requirements, such as coverage thresholds, capacity, and quality of services required, different IoT deployment models can be created, each tuned to different business plans. Each model includes the choice of IoT technology to be deployed, such as NB-IoT or LTE-M, and the selection of the most suitable sites, which helps to minimize and manage CAPEX investments required for the RAN. This flexibility allows MNOs to ensure that their network designs are tuned to the outcomes they expect, while helping them to manage investment in their radio networks more effectively.
M2M and IoT will continue to evolve, be prepared!
IoT and M2M connectivity is continuing to evolve. New releases of standards are expected and there will be incremental improvements in capabilities throughout the next few years. In this context, it's also particularly important to ensure that planning tools are aligned with technology from different vendors, as well as different standards. At Infovista, we've worked extensively with a range of leading IoT infrastructure vendors to ensure that Planet can provide the right results in different network and vendor environments.
For example, we've helped Ericsson accelerate deployment of new IoT applications. Steven Filipovic, Head of Portfolio, Network Design and Optimization for Ericsson has shared his insight and perspective on the massive shift to IoT and M2M devices in an exclusive video interview. If you would like to find out how Infovista has supported Ericsson's efforts, watch the video now.
We have a wealth of other resource covering key IoT topics available — why not take the opportunity to explore them?