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Dedicated Mobile Core Networks for IoT

Gabriel Brown
11/30/2016
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Cellular networks are an important part of the Internet of Things (IoT). By providing wide-area connectivity and service-layer platforms, mobile operators can help virtually every industrial sector to transform operations and pursue new lines of business.

This isn't a new idea. Operators have been active in the machine-to-machine (M2M) market for many years using GSM networks and the recent standardization of narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE Cat M1 in 3GPP Release 13 offers a long-term roadmap for low-power, small-data IoT services.

The focus of mobile operator IoT has, rightly, been on the radio access and devices. However, there has also been concomitant development in the core network. Due to the diversity of IoT services, and because IoT often has requirements that are not readily addressable at the desired price points by the classic, smartphone-oriented mobile core, progressive operators are investing in dedicated core networks for IoT, using virtualization and cloud to optimize the design and cost model of the new core.

Some examples of mobile operators deploying dedicated virtual IoT core networks are shown in this slide taken from our webinar Packet Core: A Key Component to IoT/MTC Profitability (now available in the Light Reading archive).

In my recent white paper Cloud-Native Packet Core for Operator IoT Services, I discuss why the core network is an important part of the operator proposition. The white paper argues that creating dedicated virtual core networks, using "cloud native" design principles, optimized to the traffic profile and commercial needs of the service, is important to the efficiency and scalability of IoT.

It also discusses two new, simplified architectures for the NB-IoT core, each optimized to transport small data over the NAS control channel: the "T6a option" and the "S11-U option." In each case, a dedicated IoT core would be deployed and connected to the RAN via the S1-lite interface, a modified version of the existing S1-MME interface, used for control-plane signalling. You can download a copy of the paper here (pdf, registration required).

Fundamentally, operators need to align their cost base with the revenue model of the IoT end-user service. An operator obviously can't charge as much to connect, say, an air quality monitoring sensor as it can a high-end smartphone, and must adapt to price points the market can bear. In this sense, a dedicated cloud-hosted core is important to making the mobile network commercially attractive to IoT providers.

This blog is sponsored by Nokia

— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/21/2018 | 9:13:00 AM
Re: Dedicated Core is not enough
Good comment fmalka --I wasn't aware of jpu.io. Maybe LR should get you on the next Israel road-trip video. I'm sure you're aware, there are a few companies with this kind of approach (Expeto, Cisco/Jasper, Nokia, etc, Working Group Two?). It would be interesting to hear how you do things.
fmalka
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fmalka,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/21/2018 | 4:12:37 AM
Dedicated Core is not enough
It is indeed elementary to be able to provide a dedicated mobile core to support a specific IoT vertical in a more agile way. However, most of the IoT use cases are very costs sensitive and having a traditional dedicated core is costly. In addition, the mobile core doesn't provide all the functionality required to most of the IoT use cases, you would typically require a connectivity management platform and a billing system to support the IoT use case. In some other scenarios you might also require additional elements to provide end-to-end security and to manage the edge devices themselves. Therefore, there is a need, for a consolidated lightweight solution that can provide all these capabilities in one platform, this to support  both mobile operators and enterprises to make IoT business possible and profitable. For more details, i recommend visiting https://jpu.io.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/1/2016 | 3:58:16 PM
Re: Non-LTE LPWAN
The cost model is why I'm really interested in IoT micropayments. These could be done with digital currency - the San Francisco startup 21 Inc. is looking into doing this. Micropayments for microservices I think are the future of IoT. 
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/30/2016 | 9:44:13 PM
Penny bots
We knew something like this might come as demand for IoT connectivity grew. I'm pleased to see plans like cost access for these devices - it makes sense.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/30/2016 | 8:44:48 PM
Non-LTE LPWAN
@Gabriel: What are your insights here as to why, despite enthusiasm for Cat-M1 and related techs, telcos seem to have largely pooh-poohed Non-LTE-based LPWAN solutions?
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