While many people think the Internet-of-Things (IoT) represents a new group of technologies, IoT devices have actually been living in our pockets for years. The smartphones that most of us rely on daily, for instance, are already equipped with sensors and beacons similar to the ones that will connect non-cellular IoT devices in the future. Even banks, utility companies and other industries have years of familiarity with machine-to-machine (M2M) networks, as these connections make processes like credit card transactions and smart electrical metering a reality.
What makes the concept of IoT future-facing is the fact that forecasts for its proliferation are substantial. While next-generation wireless technology such as 5G will help to enable a boom in connectivity, it's really the low-power, wide-area networks (LPWAN) fueling past M2M communications that will help move IoT forward.
According to the June 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report, the number of IoT devices on the planet is set to balloon from 15 billion in 2015 to as much as 28 billion in 2021. The report found that non-cellular IoT devices — the technology that depends most on LPWAN — are poised to usurp mobile phones as the most common IoT fixtures come 2021, jumping from 4.2 billion units in 2015 to as much as 14.2 billion devices five years from now.
The sheer volume of IoT devices coming online poses a significant challenge for wireless network operators, and differing business approaches and technical options for delivering IoT make it a difficult market to predict. As a result, operators and their vendors have many scenarios to consider before determining their best IoT network strategy.
For many new technology rollouts, RF planning is step one
On the outset, operators need to determine where their IoT customers will be located to dictate where networks should be rolled out, as well as to establish a reasonable timeline. This will also help operators map out the CAPEX and OPEX of taking these strategies from the planning stages to reality.
Operators will also need to take into account potential spectrum issues. This requires various RF pathloss propagation scenarios to plan for potential coverage interruptions or frequency interference from competing radio bands. These scenarios must also take into account the demands of different settings, i.e. a dense urban area crowded with IoT devices versus low-density suburbs with comparably low connectivity.
Ultimately, however, traditional operators will need to figure out how they can integrate new IoT frequencies with existing wireless networks in order to not only reduce the need for new infrastructure, but also consolidate backhaul and network maintenance. The more synchronized each of the operator's networks are, the easier it is for teams that are already familiar with traditional wireless infrastructure to maintain and operate the IoT LPWANs of the future.
At the same time, new IoT service providers implementing their own LPWANs are using new technology standards like Sigfox and LoRa that operate on an unlicensed spectrum to circumvent the potential limitations of mainstream cellular standards in making IoT tech performant. While some of these alternative networks may position themselves as disruptors against traditional operators, they often lack the footprint and expertise that established operators boast in deploying new network technologies. As a result, sometimes these IoT networks will work with traditional operators to adopt their technologies alongside larger network deployments. Whichever path these new technologies take, however, they still face the same planning challenges that come about with any network deployment.
Luckily for traditional wireless operators, they have a leg up over new entrants in mapping out IoT networks because they are familiar with the evolving nature of network standards, and the potential challenges that can come about during planning. They also have larger teams with built-in RF skillsets that can be applied to IoT-specific scenarios.
These same advantages ring true for when using Planet, our industry-standard RF planning solution, for mapping IoT networks. As the original RF planning software — having been developed to rollout 2G wireless networks in the 1990s — Planet has a long pedigree and a strong user community around the world. This gives traditional operators and new entrants time-tested tools for getting there IoT networks off the ground that has been used extensively by operators of M2M networks for utilities, surveillance and military applications, as well as by conventional wireless operators across the globe.
As part of the roll out of Planet 6.1, our latest RF planning solution for wireless and 5G networks, we provide an extensive platform to a waiting community of network operators and their vendors. Learn more about Planet for IoT and its many use cases by downloading our solution brief here.