IoT Organisations Face Up to the Challenge of Connectivity Choice

Mohsen Mohseninia is the vice president of market development Europe at Aeris, the provider of IoT services that include the Aeris Fusion IoT Network and Mobility Suite, which span from connectivity up to vertical solutions for things that move. Here, he tells George Malim how organisations can demystify the growing array of connectivity technologies and select those best suited for their deployments, not just for today but taking into account future needs, innovation and business models.

George Malim: Do you think the somewhat bewildering choice of connection technologies impedes organisations’ abilities to select the most appropriate connectivity for their deployments?

Mohsen Mohseninia: It’s very hard for organisations to make the right choice but, as long as they completely understand the business model upfront, what geographies they deploy in and how long the device needs to be active in the market, they can go through the different types of technology and, ultimately, come to a decision.

However, what’s often unforeseen is the change in circumstances, where a customer’s business requirement may change because of market circumstances. The question then becomes whether the choices they’ve made can support the needed changes in their environment, that’s the $6 million question. If they have done their homework and spoken to consulting firms that are much closer to connectivity technology, they then can make the right decision.

This is not an easy decision for organisations to make today because they can’t really change their mind next year and adapt their solutions very quickly. There are long-term cost implications to this and that’s a significant challenge.

GM: How do you see the prospects of narrowband IoT (NB-IoT)?

MM: I think NB-IoT is a great thing for certain types of applications. It’s not the right technology for all solutions, but there are specific types of deployments that NB-IoT is right for. These typically are solutions that are going to be in the field for a very long time and are powered by batteries. A business case might be reliant on a battery being operational for five, ten or 15 years and, if it doesn’t last that long, costly replacement, involving truck rolls, will be required.

The right connection technology is only part of the equation. The price point for having the devices or modules and technology at the edge also is a critical factor. With NB-IoT, the customer devices that are coming out are cheap compared to 2G and other cellular options and that’s a catalyst for new IoT-based solutions to emerge into the market.

It’s not just about being the right technology for the right IoT solution, NB-IoT will enable yet-to-be-created solutions and expedite development and deployment of these. Having said that, NB-IoT is not there yet. There has been lots of talk, but it’s not ubiquitous and there still is much to be done in order to get NB-IoT to the level of 2G.

GM: Is talk of 5G a red herring given that it’s not available in most markets and many IoT applications simply don’t need the high speed and low latency it offers?

MM: Well, LTE-M and NB-IoT are 5Gsupported technologies, so already we have 5G available in the form of these technologies. However, the sexy features of 5G – the high speed, low latency and massive capacity – are all, in the first instance, consumer-related features and capabilities.

One thing that drives IoT is the cost of deploying a solution. Factors, such as the cost of modules, will be fundamental to the success or failure of deployments – the lower the cost, the more viable the service.

With 5G, we’re not at the price where native 5G modules need to be. Three years from now, as people talk about 6G, 5G will be the technology that is selected, but it’s not ready now.

GM: Do you think the connectivity supply side is doing a good job or are too many of the same old providers still pushing the same old technologies?

MM: I think the supply side, on the whole, is doing a great job. However, there are cases where, because of the competitive pressure on the supply side, some suppliers tend to mislead customers in terms of the technology that would best suit their purpose. I say that because I have seen this in the field when I speak to customers and they have been using technology that was not right. They’ve been advised by some suppliers to choose what is ultimately not the right technology for them and their business case.

I don’t think this has been done deliberately but because they fail to understand or the supply side doesn’t have full grasp of the customer’s success criteria for their deployment.

The saying goes that you can fish better in muddy water, so some muddy the water to suit their own purposes.

GM: With 2G sun-setting, is the starting point now LTE-M because it does most of what organisations want more of the time than the other options?

MM: It all depends on geographies. In North America, LTE-M has become the de facto replacement for what was done on 2G networks. Verizon and AT&T are both pushing LTE-M, while T-Mobile is pushing NB-IoT. More and more, we see the availability of LTE-M networks around the world so customers see LTE-M as the next technology for their solution moving forward.

There is a ramp-up going on with LTE-M but hardly any customer is looking to LTE-M-only modules. Specifically, if they have global deployments, they are looking at technology that allows some risk mitigation and simplifies their supply chain with the possibility of fall back to 2G, or with LTE-M the possibility of fall back to 2G or others. These types of approach are being sought after outside of the United States.

GM: What are the common mistakes that organisations make when selecting IoT connectivity and how can these be avoided?

MM: The general mistake that they make is to consider IoT as a commodity and, therefore, focus on price per megabyte. In reality, although the connectivity itself is a commodity, the delivery of the service is not a commodity. This differs from one organisation to another where different features and benefits are required.

Our focus, therefore, is to look at total cost of the connectivity over the length of the project. We assess how we could optimise that with our tools, capabilities and service level agreements so the customer gets low total cost of ownership and the assurance they need for better quality service. Service assurance also ensures the total cost of ownership is reduced. While we provide highly competitive prices, others can undercut us. But down the line, customers will see how a lack of assurance affects performance.

GM: Where does Aeris fit in here? Which technologies do you prefer and how to do you add value beyond the connectivity?

MM: The Aeris Fusion IoT Network is the latest addition to our technology and is designed to add value by offering intelligent services on top of our core network, such as connectivity-aware over-the-air (OTA) upgrades. We have proven through lab and field testing that many customers will suffer a significant amount of failures with their OTA upgrades if they continue to perform these in the standard way for 2G connections when they migrate to LTE-M devices, purely because of the nature of available capacity and channels.

Mohsen Mohseninia,

We’ve developed value-added services to reduce OTA upgrade failures and, thereby, have reduced the cost of re-trying and failing upgrades. On top of this, we’ve improved services by making sure security patches are updated with few failures.

We are building intelligence on top of the network and that involves a lot more security and more intelligence in terms of the way devices work in the future.

Achieving cost reduction and accelerating time to market improves operational efficiency, which is what every customer wants. Of course, there is no silver bullet but there are a number of things we do to make better outcomes happen for customers.

Support is a key area that will come under even greater pressure as volumes of IoT devices increase. A lot of people think that if they have a problem, they call up and we fix it, but we think of support more broadly. It’s better if you don’t have to call, so we are proactively checking the network before customers, and if we find the problem before them, and if there is anything they need to address the issue, we have the tools so they can roll out that fix in a scalable and automated way.

To this end, we’re continuously exploring and looking to add partners to enhance our cloud-based offerings, tools and support.

We have been in the IoT connectivity business for a long time and we have a lot of experience with customers― from small units to two million units. We have learnt a lot in those deployments and we have taken these learnings to inform our direction for the Aeris Fusion IoT Network launch.

GM: How is Aeris different from the competition?

MM: With our Fusion IoT Network, we have created a step change in efficiency. We now can have deep control of the device and we can act on the insights in real time. What we have seen in others in the market is that the insights are not actionable or they are coming too late. We have done a lot of work here and we have a lot of interesting capabilities.

The second area where we’re different is in network and carrier flexibility. As I detailed earlier, there now are a lot of wireless technologies, including LTE-M, NBIoT and 5G, but older technologies are still there. At the same time, customers want to move from regional deployments to global deployments, so a single technology carrier doesn’t really work anymore. With the Fusion IoT Network, we are providing global flexibility in deployments. This is in marked contrast to force-fitting enterprises to a single technology.

Finally, this really is about the blurring of the lines between the IoT layer and the connectivity later. Historically, these have been strictly siloed and a lot of information between these layers has been isolated. With the Fusion IoT Network, we are doing things to improve security and application performance. The application is aware of the status of the device, whether it is on the network, whether it is roaming or not, or simply unavailable. In other solutions, that is not available and we think that is a big differentiator for us.

GM: What’s next for Aeris?

MM: We have never been in a better position from a technical infrastructure perspective. We now have the baseline for new functionality and will be harnessing the benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning to empower our customers further. We’ll be increasing carrier portability to support our customers, many of which manufacture in one region while selling in many others.

As the market scales up, the focus will move away from per megabyte price to total cost of ownership and the value in flexibility, management and control that IoT connectivity specialists can deliver.

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