Dedicated Mobile Core Networks for IoT

Gabriel Brown
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

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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