Though the telecom industry is still waiting for the mass IoT market to arrive, large deployments involving hundreds of thousands of devices are already emerging in areas like connected cars, telematics and manufacturing. As the connected device population grows across multiple verticals, service providers will play key roles in connecting new end points at potentially unforeseen volumes. However, service providers will have to approach provisioning in the IoT much differently than they have for traditional mobile devices.
According to forecasts from Gartner, 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016. And that number is expected to grow to 20.4 billion by 2020. By comparison, the GSMA projects 5.7 billion mobile subscribers in 2020, up from nearly 5 billion in 2016.
Working at such massive scale under such rapid growth conditions demands automation, which is why many service providers are interested in embedded SIMs (eSIMs) that can self-configure when powered on. These are beginning to be deployed in IoT devices to eliminate the need for manual SIM installation and configuration. Whether it's an eSIM or traditional SIM, the entire provisioning process will benefit from increased automation across inventory, provisioning and device activation and configuration.
As service providers scale networks to cope with growing IoT traffic, they will find that the demand profile for IoT services is very different from that of traditional mobile services. While there will be far more devices—and types of devices—in the IoT environment compared to the traditional mobile world, many of the communications from IoT devices will be sporadic and only require short sessions with low bandwidth exchanges.
One example is an IoT-connected garbage bin operated by a local authority. A connected device in the bin would send an alert to the authority when it is full, perhaps every two days. That simple communication requires miniscule bandwidth compared to a consumer’s video stream. Therefore, the challenge for service providers is to optimize their networks continuously, based on data analysis, to align with more individual sessions and dynamic traffic patterns and events.
Service providers are accustomed to provisioning devices that only utilize GSM cellular networks (3G/4G) plus Wi-Fi. Instead, IoT-connected devices will use low-power, wide-area (LPWA) radio technologies, proprietary radio capacity (such as NB-IoT) and the next stage of the GSM standard: 5G. With an expansive menu of connectivity choices, each intended for a different purpose, service providers will need broader expertise and will benefit from intelligent automation that matches IoT applications with their associated connectivity levels.
These three differences provide both an opportunity and a threat for service providers. With their vast experience in supporting services at scale and proven expertise in mobile, service providers can lead in IoT provisioning. But with the greater automation demands that the IoT brings, provisioning must take an evolutionary step forward.
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