With companies in various sectors looking to benefit from the advantages offered by mobile private networks (MPNs), they should plan their buying strategies for these services carefully. Different requirements mean a new approach may be needed from simply buying connectivity from their traditional telecoms provider, writes Antony Savvas.
Mikaël Schachne, the chief marketing officer and vice president of mobility and IoT business at BICS, says: “We’re all aware of the growing array of benefits that the Internet of Things brings to operators, enterprises, end-users and society as a whole, including productivity gains, the widening of access to essential services, the chance to reduce energy consumption and waste and the maximisation of assets. However, what’s also key in this emerging ecosystem is the new opportunity it will unlock for players outside of the traditional telecoms space – enterprises themselves have the chance not only to be users of IoT services, but to become core components of the IoT value chain.”
James Gray, the director of technology consulting firm Graystone Strategy, adds: “Telcos too are presented with a new opportunity – to move from simply being providers of IoT connectivity, to offering managed services to enterprise users which do not have the experience or industry knowledge to take full control of their IoT proposition.”
For telecoms providers, this includes experience and knowledge of the roaming market, as devices often require seamless, borderless, always-on connectivity wherever they are located. Providers of connectivity will therefore have to ensure that they can provide roaming services as a complete package, making it as easy and cost-effective as possible for all ecosystem players to capitalise on the global Internet of Things.
It’s not only connectivity which will be for sale either, with business analytics and intelligence services becoming a vital part of the global IoT ecosystem. These will allow users to optimise network performance; ensure the delivery of appropriate, relevant, profitable services; and to gain more insight into customers to help reduce churn.
Chris Bataillard, the group chairman and CEO of WND UK, which provides a sensor network to various industries based on the Sigfox low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technology, says: “What is revolutionary in IoT is not the bandwidth per device, it’s the sheer number of devices that could be connected to generate valuable data. But as the total data per device is very low the total cost per device – hardware, power and connectivity – must also be low. All data has value and the objective is to collect the data from each device for less than the value of that data. This therefore requires both a technology and a network that is extremely low cost and uses low power.”
For Gray, traditional providers have an advantage. “Commercially, established operators often have the ability to offer the best deals on IoT connectivity,” he says. “After all, they own all the value chain and benefit from network economics. For solutions like mobile private networks they have the experience and the spectrum capacity to deliver a bespoke solution for very large deployments. But when it comes to more moderate scale solutions, there are a range of IoT specialists who may be able to deliver bespoke solutions quicker and more efficiently.”
That’s because they manage some of their own IT systems and this tends to allow them to be more dynamic, says Gray. There is also a good chance they won’t be tied to one operator so they can offer multiple networks and hence more resilient solutions. And, as they are smaller, they are often more open to developing bespoke solutions, he adds, and still have access to the roaming footprint and quality networks of the host operators that they work with.
“Ultimately, I’d say it depends on the individual use case, degree of integration required into the network and the question of whether the connectivity cost is the most important element of the value proposition – in many cases it’s not,” he explains. “Businesses and consumers are buying into more premium services where the connectivity layer is simply an enabler. Considering this will help establish how best you build the service to attract customers and grow, and therefore which partners are better suited to your strategy.”
Catherine Gull, head of business development for mobile private networks at Three, says there are key things for customers to consider when choosing an MPN provider for efficient and reliable communications.
She says providers must have available spectrum that has the ability to run on separate infrastructure from their public networks. The network has to be a bespoke ring-fenced end-to-end managed service for the enterprise.
Customers also need to take an ongoing proactive risk-managed approach, she adds, not an issue resolution approach to simply mitigate issues as they appear. Having clear service level agreements (SLAs) and the monitoring of the private network by a bespoke team at the service provider is crucial to this.
“This stuff isn’t easy so proven experience on private networks is extremely important. Just because the provider manages a large macro network it doesn’t mean they are skilled in private networks. There is a reason why Three runs entirely separate teams with very specific skill sets in this market,” says Gull.
Three already delivers an MPN at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 and at the key port of Felixstowe in the UK.
A number of technology suppliers are already addressing the dual required needs from customers around often demanding applications and the delivery of reliable connectivity from various service providers. These include Aeris, which last year launched its Fusion IoT Network, a 5G-ready solution that supports LTE-M, NB-IoT, LTE and 2G/3G.
Historically, IoT connectivity solutions have been inflexible and rigid, creating lock-in to certain networks and technologies, along with barriers to updating systems. As IoT deployments can last for ten years or more, this model is no longer tenable as the pace of change has increased with new regulations and frequent wireless technology transitions. The Fusion IoT Network turns the legacy model upside down, says Aeris, breaking up the application and connectivity silos that can exist in IoT deployments.