Wireless operators are beginning to appreciate the network implications of addressing the M2M market.
The potential opportunity is of course huge. Analysys Mason is projecting that the number of M2M connections worldwide will reach 2.1 billion by 2020, with year-on-year growth rates of between 36% and 52%. Analyst, Berg Research predicts that shipments of cellular M2M devices will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.1% to reach 294.1 million by 2015.
However, if operators are to capitalise on this opportunity, they will need to attune themselves to the unique challenges posed by this rapidly growing market environment, and look carefully at the networks that need to support M2M devices as well as the business processes used to get those devices onto the network.
The fact is that existing networks have been designed, built and sized to support voice and data devices used by business or consumer customers, and may not scale easily to also support a potentially larger number of M2M devices. This will become an increasingly urgent issue for operators as the M2M market grows faster and faster.
The issue is not only one of capacity and availability of resources – although these are important. The M2M market is very new, and we have yet to see the bulk of service and technology innovation. During this period of innovation there will be new services and business models developed across a wide range of vertical sectors, many different connected devices will be designed and they will need to get onto a network. Some business models will fail, technology will certainly not be standardised and may not be as robust (at least initially) as we see in the mature and well-standardised mobile market of today. So even if capacity can be found in existing core networks, treating M2M in the same way as existing services poses a risk to those services – upon which every operator still depends.
So, does the answer lie in building M2M-specific infrastructure to support the new devices and reduce the risk to existing services? Well yes, but that’s not the whole story. M2M devices are different: a very large proportion of them need only to connect to the network intermittently and for short periods, and in many scenarios (for example utility metering) although mobile networks are a convenient way to provide connectivity, mobility itself is not actually a requirement. Because of this, permanently provisioning M2M devices in the established sense and with full mobile capability is not necessary. Furthermore, there is an opportunity to take advantage of these differences and deploy an infrastructure that helps to protect networks from the uncertainty around M2M.
Many operators are already investing in M2M service delivery platforms, often including a portal for M2M Enterprise Customers, and handling requirements like asset management, device on-boarding and configuration, billing and diagnostics. The next phase of M2M ‘build-out’ will see new systems in the network which will control when, and how, M2M devices are allowed to connect – without those devices needing to be provisioned in the conventional sense. The technology to enable this is already being used in Dynamic Provisioning solutions (where Evolving Systems is an innovator and market leader).
By integrating these new connectivity services platforms at the network level, with the service delivery platforms being developed today, it will be possible to better control device connectivity. It will be possible to enforce connection policies in the network that are directly aligned with the status of devices in the asset management and on-boarding processes. And once devices are active in the network, they can be prevented from connecting until required to do so by their associated M2M applications.
As well as preparing to scale their M2M business, operators can start to mitigate the risks that increase in scale could impose on their networks by recognising the different connectivity requirements of M2M devices and deploying a connectivity services platform that takes these into account and manages them according to emerging M2M business needs.