You don’t need more market stats to know that the Internet of Things (IoT) is real and happening today. Service providers are finally able to embrace the opportunity for a new breed of service offerings and are moving fast. This momentum has been enabled by the widespread adoption of virtualized, software-based networks and the advanced platform capabilities that are now available making profitable IoT service delivery a sustainable business reality.
Why Virtualized Works
Virtualized networks are being embraced by operators globally as the foundation for IoT services due to the inherent flexibility they provide to support the wide range of IoT applications — from low-latency, high bandwidth critical IoT services to latency tolerant, low bandwidth massive IoT services. Providing granular network control capabilities unavailable through legacy infrastructures, virtualized networks allow operators to provide network “slices” by industry, segment, or service type. This is critical for serving the wide range of IoT service types – from low-bandwidth services such as meter-reading, to bandwidth intensive applications such as video surveillance and connected car services.
What’s Needed for Profitable IoT?
While the shift toward virtualized networks has made it economically possible to bring billions of connected ‘things’ on net, not all virtualized approaches are equal in terms of their ability to support profitable end-to-end service delivery. In evaluating the options available, there are several areas that communication service providers (CSPs) should investigate to ensure they possess the right solution to deliver services today, and the flexibility required to adapt to this market as it matures and evolves.
Proven Scalability and Support for Emerging Standards
As IoT is about connecting infinite things on a network, the need for a virtualized network to be able to scale will be a fundamental capability affecting the overall success of the service. With many vendors jumping into network functions virtualization (NFV), operators should first look to offerings that have demonstrated a proven ability to support the needs of large scale Tier One operators globally. Real-world success supporting live commercial traffic counts for a lot. In addition to scale, solutions should be able to adapt to the unique requirements that these new networks adds. With ‘things’ located in remote areas with limited power, support for emerging standards such as narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) should be a must-have in terms of solution capabilities.
IoT Service Enablement Platforms
While the virtualized connectivity element is the foundation that makes IoT services profitable, it is just one component of a larger, end-to-end IoT solution operators will need to deploy. As operators map their broader IoT ambitions, it will be incumbent for them to determine how much of the ultimate service they will want to control/deliver. Some operators will be content to capture the connectivity element of IoT services, while others will seek the delivery of a full, end-to-end offering which includes IoT service enablement platforms and service integration capabilities. For those operators interested in the latter, platforms that empower them to own the entire service and customer relationship should be on top of their list.
Open Architecture and 5G Ready
With IoT still in its early days, it would be naïve to assume that we will not see new standards and approaches emerge that will define how services are delivered. This creates the need for truly open solutions and architectures capable of adapting to the inevitable changing of requirements as the market evolves.
One such expected change is the coming arrival of 5G. As part of their evaluation of IoT solutions, operators would be prudent to ensure the future proofing of their approach and should seek proven, 5G-ready networks that enable the delivery of services today and can support 5G without service disruption or additional capital investments. In a 5G network, CSPs will need to slice their network resources into many different types of services, each with unique requirements around quality of service, security, latency, etc. With a NFV/software-defined network (SDN) architecture, CSPs can support network slicing on-demand on a per-customer or per-application/use case basis. As such, key requirements for 5G ready solutions should include advanced capabilities related to network slicing and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) architecture. Network slicing allows mobile operators to offer customized services by customer, industry, or vertical segment over a single virtualized network. The CUPS architecture enables operators to separate the core network, allowing for centralized and distributed deployments.
An often over-looked, but critical aspect of IoT is the ability to automate creation and delivery of services. While legacy approaches required “touching” hundreds of different network elements, and performing thousands of configurations as part of a multi-month effort to even modify existing services, the availability of service automation capabilities for IoT services has significantly accelerated this process. Operators deploying virtualized IoT services can now automate new service configurations using pre-defined “recipes” and seamlessly orchestrate those changes across both physical and virtual elements in their networks. These automation platforms act as the glue, enabling the ability to automate interactions across disparate platform components such as the Application Enablement Platform (AEP), the connected device platform, the analytics engine, and OSS/BSS platforms. Through this capability, operators will experience dramatic decreases in the time and effort required to create and update new services.