Enterprise Cellular-IoT Challenges – How to manage

FOR ENTERPRISE IT, MOBILE STRATEGY & ENTERPRISE IOT LEADERS

Executive Summary

Wireless connection is becoming a default option for connected everything. Cellular-IoT is becoming part of company products and services. Multi-MNO support is even more crucial in these use-cases and cost of MNO support problems will be even higher. Enterprise Edge solution with multi-MNO support is a good solution to solve these problems. Decision makers need to evaluate, build and deploy solution after very careful planning and assessment phase in which consultants can be used to help create IoT solution which meets requirements and flexibility to evolve as technology evolves rapidly. After IoT-project evaluation and planning is complete, Enterprise should execute on project implementation and operational phases with well-defined deliverable and operational efficiency.

Introduction

Although much media attention is focused on consumer products, some of the most exciting IoT innovations have occurred within the business sector, where the combination of sensor data and sophisticated analytical algorithms have allowed companies to streamline business processes, increase productivity, and develop leading-edge products. IoT faces much uncertainty related to regulatory developments, customer demand, and technological advances. For enterprise IoT, many questions also remain about its utility and impact, since most companies are still in the early stages of implementation. To date, they have only achieved modest, incremental benefits from their enterprise IoT programs.

Enterprise IoT could produce the greatest benefits in manufacturing and service operations

For service operations, respondents believed that enterprise IoT would produce the most value in three areas: diagnostics and prognostics, predictive maintenance, and monitoring and inspection. In manufacturing, the top use cases were resource and process optimization (for instance, improving yield, throughput, or energy consumption), asset utilization, and quality management. Telematics is another market that is evolving very fast to add more and more functionality using cellular-IoT and try to build multi-MNO solution.  Wearables are adding cellular connectivity. Refer to another article – Ten steps of adding LTE to a Wearable which outlines challenges of adding cellular connectivity and MNO-relationship aspects.  Mistakes in managing MNO-relationship can prove to be costly as this affects customer experience and device returns as faulty device even when device is working correctly and problem is in device-activation for cellular connection.

In next 5 years, every person in developed counties (including USA) will be using at-least 5 to 8 cellular-IoT devices in their car, wearables, home security, home automation and predictive maintenance type use-cases.  Growth is explosive with technology evolving very fast. Hence, experts help should be used to avoid costly mistakes in new device launches.  Enterprise is best advised to add consulting experts as part of their team to make sure cellular-IoT lifecycles issues are properly covered at product strategy, planning, implementation and operational stages of products.

Cellular-IoT Strategy and Planning

Enterprise Wireless should ideally be approached at the drawing board with a forward-thinking, well-educated and robust strategy that aligns with the fundamental goals of the entire business.

While this in itself is a challenge for Enterprise leaders, they must ensure that the senior executives of the organization are fully bought-in to their mobile strategy, and that there is a positive mind-set towards the transformative nature of such technologies upheld throughout.

Beyond these core aspects of introducing mobility into an organization, the strategic vision also needs to answer the diverse range of questions presented by such a fragmented and vast marketplace which is constantly evolving.

Enterprise faces many cellular-IoT issues while adding it as part of Enterprise IoT solution and products. Some of the Enterprise Cellular-IoT issues are as follows:

  • Device on-boarding for cellular-IoT as different MNOs have different device on-boarding processes
  • Device-activation issues (and associated customer returns)
  • How to maintain Enterprise Security for traffic going across MNO
  • Avoid dependence of one MNO and ability to use multiple MNO options
  • Optimize roaming cost
  • Subscription Management to adapt to local country or region
  • Deal with MNOs based on device location country / area of installation / usage
  • Fraud, Misuse of cellular-IoT devices, High unexplained subscriber traffic
  • Direct connection from Enterprise to MNO
  • AI, Analytics
  • MNO relationship management

Alot of these issues are beyond the scope of what a single MNO can solve and often Enterprise does not have the skills to manage it on their own. Most MNOs want exclusive relationship with an Enterprise which is not a desirable long-term strategic option for Enterprise. So how to bridge this enterprise-MNO relationship gap to make everyone happy?

One option to bridge the Enterprise to MNO gap is to use Managed MNO Services to manage Enterprise to MNO relationship and development of multi-MNO solution. Many industry verticals require special solutions which are not available from MNOs for their cellular-IoT requirements. For example- eSIM technology was created by Telematics Industry (as a whole) partnering with GSMA to solve MNO-mobility issues as vehicles change ownership or country of usage.

To navigate these challenging processes and essentially reach the strategic goals that Enterprise-IoT should be pointing towards, enterprises should seek help and guidance from experienced partners and solution providers when devising their mobile strategies, and trust the expertise at their disposal.

IoT Security

IoT Security is extremely important. Without IoT security, Solution will not be deployed regardless of business value that it creates. IoT security framework needs to be considered as an end-to-end solution which makes sure that no vulnerable access or link can be exploited. Security must be designed in a way that system usability is not compromised. This is not an east art to master. Many people look at security only for the pieces that they are responsible for and not contribute actively for overall security. Security is a collaborative and team effort from special people who focus on security aspect only. In some cases, over engineering is done in the name of security without considering the need of it and grows cost of project. So, this is a balancing act as well.

One example of IoT security worth considering is – Hackers who try to move sim-card out of device (thing such as utility meter or vending machine)  and use it for illegal purpose.  Detection of fraud at the end of month could be too late for fraud cases because Enterprise is liable for all the traffic & it may be too late to act on SIM-cards & subscriptions that are used in fraud. It is desirable to get “near” real-time traffic feedback of such hacking activity to stop it in a timely manner without incurring huge-cost which is a pass-through from MNO perspective.

Other IoT security example – Hacker network may try to act like MNO to try and connect to device and extract data. Creating a hacker network locally is becoming easier by the day. 3GPP and other standards forum try to plug security holes. However, for high value targets, high-value hacker option is not impossible.

Enterprise Edge connected directly to MNO-network provides additional mobile security as connection via Internet is avoided.  With SD-WAN connections being available, direct connection from Enterprise to MNO has become a lot easier. Some MNOs offer additional Enterprise Private Network services for directly connected Enterprise which can be of great help in keeping Enterprise-traffic completely private.

No solution is completely fool-proof. The best option for security is to design it in a way that it is hard for attacker to attack at very high cost and security solution is dynamic enough to detect and eliminate any attack in a timely manner. Also, continuous security monitoring and update is necessary to keep solution up-to-date and stay ahead in this cat & mouse game.

Enterprise Edge + Cloud

Edge Compute is an essential part of architecture and design that is needed to enable scalable architecture for massive IoT deployment or when data generated from IoT device is significantly large or time-sensitive for processing.

MNOs are also deploying Edge Compute Infrastructure for similar reasons.  Public Cloud vendors are also adding Edge Compute Infrastructure as part of their product offering. Every market maker is pitching their edge-compute Infrastructure option to be the best option for Enterprise.  However, no one has a proven solution yet and market is evolving rapidly. Edge Client-support is needed for MNO-based Edge-Compute to enable smooth separation between Edge-Compute functions and Core-Network functions. For this reason alone, Edge-support for Smartphone / user-devices may evolve differently from Edge-support for IoT devices.

In our view, Enterprise should take a step-back and evaluate option at long-term strategic level.  Edge-Compute requirements can be analyzed for two different Enterprise use-case categories:

  • IoT added as part of company products in an industry vertical such as smart-industry, home-security, Telematics / transport, Drones & Wearables
  • Enterprise branch office Edge-Compute Solution hosting devices from multiple vendors

Enterprise strategy, requirements and architecture shall be vastly different for two use-cases categories identified above.

Most IoT enabled products are proprietary and there is very little focus on creating industry standards. Most of the products using IoT today are consumer products by large market makers such as Apple, Samsung and others who have the market power to push proprietary solution to replicate Apple’s success with smartphones. For Telematics and Drones, MNO traffic management and device management creates challenging issues. MNOs want exclusive relationship for many of these vertical market players as each car manufacturer (for example) can potentially add several million customers for each MNO. In our view, as a long-term strategy, Telematics industry businesses should invest heavily in creating a multi-MNO solution at continent-scale and hire mobile consultants (like us) to build a mobile center of excellence as their strategic product differentiation asset. Similarly, Drones and other industry verticals can be analyzed separately as each of these use-cases are unique. Each vertical market shall evolve separately and each market is going to grow significantly in future. Mobilestack can offer expertise in development of Edge Compute solution for our clients at strategic, planning, implementation and operational level to help Enterprise develop such solutions.

For second use-case, Enterprise will use multiple vendors as part of Multi-Tenant Edge Compute within building or local geographic area. A good example of this is hospitals. Integration of several proprietary solutions will be hard and make market penetration of such products very low. Again, Health care-industry level efforts are needed to develop an edge-compute infrastructure which is application-vendor neural, open and secure. This will also require industry-standards and open-source solutions that can be used as part of Edge-Compute infrastructure. Industry forum is required to drive such objectives. Effort is needed to develop such solutions asap. This problem is too big for any Enterprise to solve.

Cloud providers are trying to solve this in their own proprietary manner to specifically grow their own Cloud business. In our view, some big Enterprise should work together to create MNO-neutral and Cloud service provider (CSP)-neutral platform which can allow deployment of multi-tenant applicants from different vendors. The good news is that MNOs want a similar platform available at bigger scale for their own solution. Open Source forums are also striving for similar goals. It is early stage for these solutions. Active participation of Enterprise customers is needed to steer these solutions in the right direction.

To mitigate Fraud risks, Enterprise needs to monitor & analyze “traffic usage pattern” as most operators do consolidated billing across all Enterprise subscribers on a monthly basis.  Enterprise-Edge can play a huge role in providing near real-time traffic analysis on a per subscription basis to identify fraud in a timely manner and save operational cost.

Multi-MNO Solution – Pros & Cons

No MNO wants Enterprise to develop Multi-MNO solution. What does the Enterprise want? Not many Enterprise stake-holders have clarity on this. In our view, a lot depends on business and scale of IoT devices that are going to be deployed. For small-cap or mid-cap businesses developing IoT solution, access to a consolidator type solution is beneficial and developed as community with the help of mobile experts like Mobilestack Inc. VCs need to consider investments in such options after community requirements and business case is established.

For large cap businesses developing IoT based products or services, development of multi-MNO global solution should be part of strategically important. Telematics manufactures is a very big example to learn from.  Car manufacturers (such as GM and Ford) have been using cellular-IoT in a car as part of safety security diagnostics (SSD) solution for many years and there are many lessons that can be learnt from these experiences.

Many MNOs are developing global connectivity solutions to cater to these large Enterprise requirements in the hope of getting exclusive relationship from large cap businesses. MNOs are also willing to offer deep discounts to make get exclusive contracts and weaken Enterprise business cases for development of multi-MNO solution.

Multi-MNO solution has many advantages for large / Global IoT deployments. Long term cost advantages, future proof solution, ability to overcome MNO merger, technology upgrade or coverage issues, faster time-to-market using new technology features or new wireless technology, mergers etc are examples of benefits of using multi-MNO solution.

However, development of multi-MNO solution poses significant challenges as well. For initial product launch with faster time-to-market considerations, it may be harder to justify multi-MNO solution which is likely to take longer to implement.  Development of multi-MNO solution requires significant wireless product development experience which is not the focus of businesses in vertical markets except Telecom MNOs or Cable providers. In our view, multi-MNO solution is going to be different for different market verticals. Industry forums in different market verticals should work together to create an architecture, design and reference implementation that can be used by all businesses in an industry vertical with minor tweaks for differentiation. This could be developed as community funded program which is managed by mobile industry experts.

Enterprise needs to engage with mobile experts to help navigate this complex requirement and Mobilestack can help. Ask us for more details.

E-SIM – needed or not?

E-SIM solution was initially developed by Telematics industry forum working together with GSMA to solve subscription management issue as vehicles are sold or moved across country and continental boundaries or due to customer preference changes.  This technology was later adopted for smartphones and Wearables as part of broader GSMA effort to meet device manufacturer’s request and interest.  In a way, this is a good example of how good technology solution is created to serve pressing market needs.

E-SIM solution was specifically designed to enable change of MNO subscription over-the-air. Obviously, this solution is needed only when Enterprise mobile /IoT solution is using multiple-MNOs. This option can also be considered if Enterprise wants to support multiple-MNOs in future.  Many MNOs support e-SIM solution today.  E-SIM solution can also be considered as part of future-proofing of Enterprise solution

Enterprise needs to consider this feature based on use-case requirements and mobile strategy. Since technology is new, inter-MNO transfer has its challenges for smooth execution. However, technology is improving rapidly and likely to remove operational challenges soon.

Enterprise needs to engage with mobile experts to help navigate this complex requirement and Mobilestack can help. Ask us for more details.

MNO Relationship Management

MNO relationship management refers to Enterprise IT application integration with MNO’s subscription management and billing solution. This is an important operational piece which is used for device management, customer on-boarding, subscriber management, device activation and localization of Enterprise devices.  Good integration of Enterprise application with MNO’s IT subscriber management portal is very important. In our experience, both, MNO and Enterprise shall equally benefit in making this integration work smoothly.  Since MNOs main focus is on Consumer side, their Enterprise IT-solutions are still evolving and may not be as smooth for Enterprise device on-boarding and activation. Similarly, there can be other issues such as understanding gaps of how MNOs portal / subscriber management works, Enterprise Application issues which can contribute to bad end-user experience and higher %age of customer returns. Easily, this can prove to be very costly for Enterprise or/and MNO. Periodic operational review between Enterprise and MNO is also recommended to mitigate these risks.  Through testing of such procedures should also be done.  This testing should include several geographic locations (including roaming locations) to ensure that device activation and customer on-boarding works well across full geographic scope of Enterprise product launch. Good knowledge of MNO’s IT and network is also necessary to ensure that full testing is completed. Good operational level relationship with well-defined escalation procedures should also be created to ensure that end-user issues can be solved in a timely manner. Refer to another article “Ten steps of adding LTE to a Wearable” to understand lifecycle issues of launching a product with cellular connectivity.

Enterprise-MNO relationship has many pain-points despite best efforts of Enterprise and MNO to make this marriage successful. So, what is the best option to make this marriage work? Use a marriage counselor – introducing Managed MNO Services for Enterprise. Mobilestack Inc can offer Managed MNO services to eliminate such pain-point. Ask us for more details.

Instead of trying DIY option with costly mistakes and pain-points for MNOs as well as Enterprise productivity, Enterprise is better off hiring Managed MNO Services as part of in-house expertise & knowledge to use best practices of working with MNOs for Mobile connectivity Solution using Plan, Build, Operate model to ensure best result.

Conclusion

Enterprise cellular-IoT will bring a number of challenging decisions for business leaders to make, as well as difficulties with the complexities of development and implementation. To address these Enterprise-IoT challenges, Telecom/Carrier center of Excellence, in partnership with mobile consulting experts, should be created within enterprise with measurable results and ROI objectives.

It is clear from the exploration of the challenges featured within this report that proper strategy and planning is needed to ensure good results during build and operational phase of such projects. There is still plenty of confusion within the market caused by the pace at which technology evolves, but this fragmented landscape is not something that enterprises should have to deal with on their own.

In order to overcome these challenges, senior decision makers should be prepared to take risks, embracing the failures which will inevitably occur as learning opportunities rather than backwards steps, and perhaps most importantly they need to be brave with their investments in Enterprise-IoT Solutions and Services.

Mobilestack Inc is an expert in Mobile and Wireless technology and available to help in proper planning and project implementation of Enterprise cellular-IoT / Edge solution projects. Contact us for more details.

Mobilestack Inc offers free initial consulting to better understand value proposition of hiring Mobilestack Inc for Enterprise cellular-IoT connectivity projects

Would you like to learn more about how we can help clients in solving Enterprise Cellular-IoT and MNO-relationship pain-points? Contact us for more details.