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The Ultimate Guide for Selecting an M2M Service Provider
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The Ultimate Guide for Selecting an M2M Service Provider

Posted by IoT Now MagazineMay 30, 2014

From an Aeris whitepaper.

INTRODUCTION

The selection of a service provider for your machine-to-machine (M2M) program is a critical step in the application’s deployment. Your choice to manage your M2M initiative can make the difference between success and failure.

Regardless of your industry, setting up a M2M application is a complex task. Your service provider must be able to deliver several essential requirements for your project, including low costs, reliable network connectivity, robust service agreements, effective application integration, and flexible rate plans. If they can’t deliver on these prerequisites, they are not going to be the right partner for you.

To help you select the ultimate service provider with the capacity to manage a successful deployment, we suggest six questions to ask any cellular operator of MVNO during the selection process:

1. WHAT ARE THE COSTS FOR THE ENTIRE LIFECYCLE, NOT JUST PER KB RATES?

Make sure you won’t be hit with hidden costs from your service provider that drive up your M2M service bill. These costs can come in several forms:

Suspended service: In some industries service isn’t needed all the time. For example, farming combines don’t operate during winter, and patient monitoring devices are only used when prescribed. Why should you pay for service when it’s not being used? Does the provider offer plans that allow you to suspend service when it’s not needed? Be sure to inquire about fees for suspending or reactivating a service.

Rounding: One often overlooked factor that can quickly drive up costs, especially in lower-usage solutions, is “rounding.” M2M customers have been surprised to learn that their providers round 1KB per session (as opposed to rounding 1KB per device per day). Rounding can more than double your monthly costs in a lower usage solution.

Special services: Some M2M providers charge for services such as setup fees, device certifications, provisioning, VPN client and hardware setup, API setup and implementation, voice setup, device end-oflife costs, and more. Avoid these by discussing them prior to signing with a provider.

Mid-cycle billing: Will the service provider charge you high overage fees if your usage requirements change and you are waiting for a new plan to start? There are many routine reasons why companies need to change rate plans in the middle of a billing cycle. For example, a solution provider that uses .5MB of data a month might have to test new devices one month, which would increase data usage well beyond their limit. Or, a trucking company may want to increase the frequency of location reporting for a special report and thus will need more data for a short time. You should be able to switch plans mid-cycle and have them go into effect immediately. You can save tens of thousands a dollar a month with this simple action. If you can’t change the plan, you may face tens of thousands in overage costs.

All these costs should be viewed as part of the Total Cost of Ownership of an M2M solution, which if not addressed, over time can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra charges yearly.

2. ARE THEY CARRIER-AGNOSTIC?

Can the service provider expand cellular coverage beyond its own cell towers? Traditional carriers only optimize their cellular coverage based on their cost of delivery and they always prefer to use their own towers, even if the coverage they provide is weak or intermittent.

A carrier-agnostic provider, like Aeris Communications, can expand coverage where needed, and will offer the strongest signal, regardless of carrier, with no interruption in service.

This is incredibly important for mission critical applications like delivery services or healthcare monitoring devices. For example, using a carrier-agnostic M2M service provider, a trucking fleet can optimize its coverage area and reduce the latency for its customers’ trucks to connect to the network.

Traditionally, enterprises must secure cellular coverage with a different provider for each country in which they require connectivity. This means that you must deal with language barriers, troubleshooting difficulties, and costly operational expenses. For example, every time you must activate or manage a SIM, you will deal with a different carrier operating on a different platform. Each login requires a different password; each invoice is from a different carrier, etc. It’s easy to see how such a configuration can significantly increase the time and cost of management multiple carriers.

3. DO THEY OFFER REMOTE TROUBLESHOOTING?

It is important to fully understand a M2M service provider’s troubleshooting capabilities. Providers with remote, real-time troubleshooting capabilities can save you significant costs on a “truck roll.” Providers should also have a feature that allows data to be stored in a cloud environment should devices experience downtime. The provider’s troubleshooting features should also give you the ability to ping a device to locate it or force a device to re-register on the network. Crowdsourcing technology can help you gauge more quickly whether a device is the only one affected or whether the problem is a network issue.

Does the service provider offer hands-on support? What kind of support services do the M2M service providers you’re considering offer? A provider with a network operations center (NOC) support team that deals only with M2M-related issues is going to be more knowledgeable about M2M devices and connectivity issues than the team on a consumer cellular help desk.

An M2M provider’s remote troubleshooting tools are also able to significantly improve your ability to deal with problems that arise, while reducing or eliminating the costs of dispatching a technician to a remote site.

4. DO THEY OFFER A DEDICATED M2M NETWORK?

There are several important benefits derived from using a dedicated M2M network, one where all the effort and expertise is directed at delivering the best M2M service possible.

Superior performance is critical in a M2M network; you can’t afford to send signals repeatedly when the network is overrun with consumer traffic. A M2M network dedicated solely to M2M traffic won’t experience the delays caused by crowds of consumer handsets. The lower latency of a M2M-dedicated network means you’ll be able to rely on mission-critical transmissions to get through the first time. This is not likely to be the case for cellular providers that make the majority of their revenue off consumer devices; that traffic invariably takes priority over M2M.

Since they are designed to match the needs of your business and its devices, M2M solutions are more flexible than consumer cellular plans. More than looking at per-device data plans that offer a fixed amount of data per month, which is often the case with consumer devices, M2M providers should be able to let you tailor your solutions to maximize data usage on each device. For example, devices that send higher volumes of data or that send data more frequently should not be on the same plans as devices that infrequently use data.

Unlike consumer handsets, M2M devices are sometimes used only sporadically. For example, agricultural devices are often out of use during the non-growing season, and telehealth devices are only used when needed. M2M plans that include a suspend feature allow you to stop service during these downtimes and only pay for the months when the device is actually in use.

The ability to test and distribute M2M applications without incurring a monthly charge is an important benefit of using an M2M provider with its own network. Charges only begin when the device is activated for commercial use, at which time it converts to billable status.

5. DO THEY HAVE APIS FOR EASY INTEGRATION WITH YOUR EXISTING SYSTEMS?

Can the service providers provide a full suite of free APIs that allow you to extend your capabilities into your customer-facing applications and back office solutions, leveraging leading business applications such as those from SAP, Oracle, and PeopleSoft? These applications are integral elements of ERP-based supply chains and are linked to back office systems with APIs.

The availability of these APIs can provide numerous strategic advantages for users. For example, the APIs enable access to network information to troubleshoot a service or a device. Such a platform can enable application developers to rapidly create and deploy M2M business applications at minimal costs and with zero integration overheads.

6. DO THEY OFFER PAY-PER-USE AS WELL AS PER-DEVICE PLANS?

Can the provider offer rate plans that are flexible enough to meet your needs? When managing M2M services, it often makes more sense to go with a pay-per-use plan than with a per-device or fixed-data plan.

M2M is a secondary revenue stream for traditional carriers, so tailoring plans for business is not a primary concern. Traditional carriers however, love to sell fixed-data M2M rate plans because the inflexibility of these plans means a lot more revenue for them. If you buy a 5 MB plan and go over that amount, the carrier makes a lot of money from your overage. Conversely, if you buy a 5 MB plan and only use 3 MB of data, the carrier keeps the extra 2 MB. Either way, buying data on a per-MB plan is a win-win for the carrier.

Many M2M applications use significantly less data per month than consumer devices so it makes more sense to go with a pay-per-use plan and pay only for what you use. Pay-per-use plans make the most sense in instances where a device is monitoring a fixed system with a small amount of usage that rarely fluctuates. For example, pay-per-use is ideal in situations where the device is monitoring a security alarm panel. In this instance, the device calls the support center just once a day to report that everything is fine. Known as a heartbeat, this daily check-in may use only 1 KB of data each day (30 KB each month).

Pay-per-use also is generally the best choice for managing a fleet of vehicles. In this example, usage is difficult to gauge because it fluctuates based on how much a vehicle is driven. If fleet usage is sporadic — for example, a work van that sits for several days before being driven — then pay-per-use makes more sense than paying for a per-device plan.

Pay-per-use is most cost-effective for lower-usage device profiles. If your devices have higher-usage levels — 10 MB or more — a per-device data plan is your best option. A M2M provider can analyze your organization’s usage to determine which option will be most cost-effective.

THE AERIS COMMUNICATIONS OPTION

Aeris Communications can answer a resounding “Yes” to all of these questions. Aeris offers the lowest total cost of ownership in the industry, saving customers more than 50 percent than traditional service providers. Aeris services are available in more than 190 countries with a platform that connects to connect 550 cellular carriers using 2G and 3G CDMA and GSM and LTE. Aeris connects millions of machines each day in the healthcare, telematics, utilities, retail, and other industries.

Aeris is carrier-agnostic, dedicated to finding the best solution for its customer, and offers world-class remote troubleshooting as well as a dedicated M2M network. The company offers free APIs to simplify integration with existing systems. And our flexible rate plans allow you to meet your needs though a pay-per-use or pay-per-device plan.

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