This Industry Viewpoint was contributed by Robin Kent, director of European operations, Adax
The Internet of Things (IoT) is being hailed as the next big thing in the tech world. The way in which we live our day-to-day lives will change forever when all of our products and devices become ‘connected’ – that’s if we’re led to believe everything we see and hear. However, the market has somewhat slowed down. Equipment manufacturers continue to push the IoT-line, but those who need to lay the infrastructure to ensure the phenomenon becomes a reality remain reserved. This hesitancy is highlighted through an industry report which found that a massive 86 per cent of service providers admit they are not ready for IoT and only a few are showing actual progress.
Despite this slow progress, IoT promises to heavily shape the telecoms industry. We’ve heard about the benefits IoT can bring not just for consumers looking to build their connected homes and drive connected cars, but a range of different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and retail. The demand to be consistently connected, and to digitally communicate with anything from another phone to a kettle, for example, highlights that this phenomenon is not going away anytime soon despite the slow uptake. Thus, the reliability of connections will become vital for the growth and success of the IoT revolution. Many are predicting that 5G will go some way to supporting the vast number of connections, but there are still likely to be problems with performance and reliability if the right solutions and network infrastructure aren’t implemented.
The huge scale of IoT adoption is a major challenge for network operators. Experts believe that network operators have the power to unlock the true capabilities of IoT, but speed is of the essence and the industry is frantically trying to keep up with end user demands and expectations. In light of this, a key problem that needs to be addressed is the protocols needed to run IoT applications.
If IoT is to truly take off and its full capabilities realised, operators must be prepared to maintain enough capacity in the core network, and more importantly, manage the connections to it without creating bottlenecks. Typically, GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) solutions have been able to handle up to 25-30,000 Packet Data Protocol (PDP) contexts per application, but operators now need to be looking towards coping with millions. By foreseeing this huge surge operators can prepare appropriately rather than waiting for it turn up unexpectedly at their door.
Operators need to consider a GTP solution that enables traffic capacity to be increased by accelerating data paths and removing bottlenecks, which in turn, accelerates the GTP tunnels and packet filtering. This results in higher performance and vastly improves QoS and Quality of Experience (QoE) for the end user. This bandwidth throttling or rate limiting is performed to guarantee QoS return on investment (ROI) via the efficient use of bandwidth.
Operators should also be prepared for the varying levels of service requirements across different applications. It’s when device numbers are massive; both the signaling and data plane throughout is dependent upon good performance from the GTP-U. The effective solution to low latency tolerance is a control plane issue and requires good GTP-C and most importantly effective SCTP.
Another potential headache for mobile operators is that IoT has many additional security requirements, because of the nature of the endpoint devices and the potential high level of service criticality. In serving a high volume of devices, networks are exposed to signaling storms, and intentionally malicious denial of service attacks. Such attacks can have a serious detrimental impact on devices, and the quality of experience the end user expects and demands. In a bid to tackle such issues, operators should adhere to the GSMA’s IoT Security Guidelines for Network Operators.
These guidelines have been designed with the entire IoT ecosystem in mind, including device manufacturers, service providers, developers, and, where this topic of discussion is concerned, network operators. The GSMA describes the most fundamental security mechanisms as; identification and authentication of entities involved in the IoT service; access control to the different entities that need to be connected to create the service; data protection to guarantee the security and privacy of the information carried by the network for the IoT service; and the processes and mechanisms to ensure availability of network resources and protect them against attack.
It’s clear that IoT is only set to grow in popularity so capacity and security must be an issue that operators address now or face falling behind competitors in delivering the high level of service customers have come to expect in the connected world. To ensure the capabilities of IoT can be embraced and implemented, network operators must take the lead and apply their own measures and protocols. An effective packet core needs to be dimensioned for cost-effective deployment and operations, but it should also be able to expand rapidly to maintain reliable performance as the number of users and devices keeps growing.