Blog

Let’s re-imagine mobile networks to unleash the full potential of IoT

February 26, 2018

Anthony Bartolo   

Chief Product Officer

This blog was first published within the Show Daily Mobile World Congress 2018 

Paving the way for truly borderless connectivity

Enhanced commercial vehicle fleet management; improved agricultural production; better connected supply chains; more efficient factories. Fulfilling the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) is now a key element in digital transformation programmes for enterprises. In fact, across sectors there’s a growing ambition to leverage innovative uses of IoT – not just for operational efficiencies, greater customer engagement and improved business intelligence, but for new services and disruptive commercial models too.

Arguably, mobile services provide a catalyst for globalisation. They enable enterprises to operate beyond the constraints of national borders, and address the needs of an international customer base. That’s why in today’s data-powered economy, for most multi-national enterprises, the idea of truly borderless operations is central to their IoT objectives. The aim is that remote IoT devices, with connectivity and data managed over a secure, global mobile network, can connect and interact seamlessly, regardless of location.

In industries such as oil and gas exploration or agriculture, globally connected equipment can provide valuable insights into operations, customers and partners – whether in the same location or thousands of miles away. It can lead to new efficiencies or, through new applications of data, help organisations to rethink their business models.

Re-thinking cellular networks for the IoT age

The increasing and strategically important role of IoT creates a need for traditional mobile service delivery conventions to evolve rapidly. So, in response to more global, connectivity demands, enterprises require solutions that deliver pervasive connectivity, to capture, move and manage information on a global scale, to ensure the success of IoT projects.

Cellular networks offer an effective, reliable, secure and ubiquitous connectivity solution – acting as the foundation for many IoT projects. However, the challenge is that today’s mobile networks are licensed and deployed at a country-by-country level. Mobile network operators (MNOs) control all aspects of their own network: the architecture, deployment, capacity, investment and – crucially with enterprise mobility – how devices such as smartphones and laptops connect to it.

There is no such concept as a single, global mobile network. Yet, as IoT dramatically expands the number and scope of connected devices, this is exactly what enterprises need. The traditional connectivity model no longer delivers the kind of flexibility and autonomy that managing multi-country IoT projects require. So to give enterprises real-time control over their growing number of devices, SIM cards and connections, they should be able to manage policies, analyse information, make updates and change device parameters themselves. Relying on a single MNO as gatekeeper for thousands or hundreds of thousands of devices is neither desirable, nor efficient.

As enterprise mobile networking evolves, completely new opportunities emerge. One that is potentially hugely valuable is for an enterprise itself to become a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound, given that IoT management requirements already align closely with the MVNO model. Enterprises who manage IoT programmes are already becoming experts in SIM provisioning, mobile device management and wireless revenue management – all key responsibilities of an MVNO. In fact, the right virtualised mobile network could be almost entirely self-managing and an extension of an enterprise’s own back-office systems – giving the CIO more control than ever over all mobile and IoT assets.

Holding enterprises hostage must stop

As IoT gathers pace, cellular connectivity has to be defined at a global, rather than national level. IoT devices should simply connect to the most appropriate network, based on network availability and quality. Enterprises can’t be held hostage to the constraints associated with MNOs roaming agreements anymore. This means putting an end to network lock-in based on MNO roaming policies and preferred partnerships.

A truly global approach to cellular networking should also consider enterprises’ varying connectivity requirements. In remote locations with patchy coverage, applications should be able to switch between different networks seamlessly to avoid loss of connectivity. In the logistics industry, businesses choose the most cost-effective route or method of transportation across multiple locations and countries – in the same way, enterprises must be able to define their own means for IoT connectivity, based on parameters that are important to them.

In forward-looking enterprises, IoT forms part of an organisation-wide digital transformation programme. From a connectivity perspective, this means that mobile device and SIM management needs to integrate with existing enterprise systems. Through complete integration with ERP, CRM and other core applications, IoT will provide enterprises with more relevant insights and maximum return-on-investment. Given that an enterprise might manage up to millions of different connected devices, this type of integration can only be accomplished with automation. APIs play a key role in making this painless and efficient.

Born connected

Over the next decade, multi-national enterprises will embrace IoT applications across all aspects of their operations, to help capture, move and manage information efficiently – while also increasingly defining the type of connectivity solutions that underpin them. Local MNOs might no longer be best-placed to address the connectivity needs of enterprises’ cross-border IoT applications. This will lead to a fundamental shift in cellular communications worldwide, as virtualised, truly global mobile networks that don’t rely on old industry conventions start to gather momentum.

At last year’s Mobile World Congress, we laid out our vision for a world where anything could be ‘born connected’ – straight out of the box, with instant, seamless access to the Internet. But, for this to properly happen, all these things must also operate efficiently, reliably and securely, anywhere in the world. Only through rethinking cellular connectivity models will enterprises be able to make the most of the transformational impact of IoT today and in the future.

Read one of our previous blogs on IoT and why enterprises shouldn’t hold back.