The ability to connect and deploy billions of sensors to monitor and control everything from cars and homes to oil rigs, industrial plants, and hospitals, is the digital future that will rest heavily on the Internet of Things (IoT) platforms. IoT clearly represents a huge opportunity for telecoms service providers to help drive global economic development for the foreseeable future.
The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) estimates that by 2020, the number of IoT devices connected through an LTE connection will be four to five times greater than LTE-connected smartphones and tablets. LTE was designed for users of mobile broadband with high data rates. Yet IoT traffic requires support for a massive number of devices, many having a very low data rate. That said, a dedicated core network can be deployed to serve IoT devices in an optimised manner and ensure that IoT provides the benefits, revenue and future growth that service providers are expecting. But how can service providers really tap into the opportunity that IoT presents with this dedicated network?
According to Telecoms.com’s Intelligence Annual Industry Survey more than 80 per cent of service provider respondents believe that IoT will be important or critical to their business, with only five per cent considering it unimportant. The mobile IoT space is a potentially huge opportunity for service providers if they can adapt to the technical and business requirements of the industries that will drive the first significant wave of IoT adoption (these include the connected car, utilities, healthcare and logistics) and develop a network that is able to support these applications.
The key components of a dedicated network
A dedicated core network for cellular IoT can serve IoT devices in an optimised manner and typically contains the Packet Data Network Gateway (PGW) and Home Subscriber Server (HSS) but may also contain the Mobility Management Entity (MME) and control elements.
Greater usage of the cloud has acted as a catalyst for the development and deployment of scalable Internet of Things applications and business models. The cloud and IoT have become two very closely affiliated future internet technologies with one providing the other a platform for success. Cloud deployment is beneficial for IoT as it brings flexibility and scalability, maximising the efficient use of resources.
Similarly, signaling can be reduced by guiding IoT devices to perform periodic location updates less frequently and by optimising paging. Reducing signaling destined for overloaded elements can also help avoid overload situations. For a large number of IoT devices sharing the same subscriber attributes, the subscriber data storage in the HSS and the signaling can be optimised to retrieve subscriber data.
Putting IoT into practice
An Evolved Packet Core (EPC) either as a stand-alone core-network-in-a-box solution or as a software product for virtualised, cloud-based deployment is essential for a dedicated IoT network. An EPC delivers separated control and data planes providing greater flexibility and scalability that core networks for cellular IoT need.
Many IoT applications require high data throughput and/or have a low tolerance of latency, e.g. vehicle telematics, video surveillance, industrial robotics, etc. GPRS Tunneling Protocol (GTP) and Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP) address the concerns and challenges of high throughput, and low latency tolerance in the core network. In addition to this, high throughput applications often require high scalability and low storage, and are best suited to a traditional stand-alone EPC. Low throughput applications tend to have high storage requirements and are better suited to a cloud-based EPC.
The underlying transmission protocol, SCTP, needs to be able to support the huge number of IoT connections trying to access the core network simultaneously. Diameter signaling can be the ‘bottleneck’ in network performance and so service providers that are unprepared with a robust SCTP solution will be faced with mass disruption to the network, which could lead to a diminished Quality of Experience (QoE) for network subscribers and also a potential loss in revenue for the operator.
For now, it’s important for service providers to understand how SCTP, GTP and EPC can work both separately and together to enable the capacity that mass scale IoT network deployments will need. As new technologies develop that require network connectivity, it becomes incrementally important that basic network requirements, such as a reliable signaling process, are prepared and fully functional for IoT technology to run successfully and generate revenues.