Where can the MNOs go next?
For the last 30 years, the growth of the mobile business has been built on a cycle of extending new services to the world's 8 billion consumers.
First, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) sold voice. Then came actual content and smartphones.
More recently, MNOs have successfully sold data packages with extras such as streaming entertainment.
They have done this well, successfully connecting the world.
The numbers back this up. According to the GSMA, in December 2022, the total number of mobile subscriptions, including cellular IoT, exceeded 11 billion. And over 5 billion people have an LTE connection.
IoT in Telecom
So where can the MNOs go next? The answer is to look beyond people.
In short: to connected objects.
Giving machines the ability to 'talk' to each other is nothing new. Some argue that the Internet of Things (IoT) began with a connected Coke dispenser in the 1980s.
That was the beginning.
The IoT is now set for a considerable boost after a decade of steady growth.
By 2025, 2022 forecasts suggest that there could be as many as 27 billion IoT-connected devices in use. This would be near 3x the installed base in 2019, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions.
And the reason for this surge? 5G.
5G: primed to start an IoT revolution
There are many ways to connect an IoT device.
Satellite, WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID, NFC, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) and Ethernet are all options. But there are always trade-offs around the range, power consumption, bandwidth, etc.
The perfect IoT connectivity option would consume extremely little power, extend to the remotest locations, and transmit large amounts of data.
5G comes closest.
On average, 5G can connect ten times more connected objects per square kilometre than 4G and can move data at up to 100x higher speeds.
MNOs know 5G represents an unmissable opportunity for them in the IoT.
Randall Stephenson, the retired CEO of AT&T, said. “With today’s networks in a square mile, you can connect a thousand, two thousand, or possibly three thousand Internet of Things devices and sensors. In a 5G world, you can connect millions of those in a square mile.”
Stephenson made those comments in 2019 when there were just a handful of live 5G launches.
There are 220 commercial 5G services in September 2022, and multiple industries are already working on eye-catching 5 G-connected object use cases.
IoT and 5G: a game-changer for many verticals
Take the connected car.
To get to level 3 autonomous driving (in which the car self-drives but “asks” the driver to take over if something goes wrong), a vehicle needs to transmit a lot of data to the transport network and other cars. This data has to move at low latency, with guaranteed network coverage and a minimum data rate for specific applications.
5G can support these demands – and manufacturers such as BMW are already at work on live deployments. BMW announced that its iNext electric vehicle will ship with built-in 5G connectivity. For example, The 2022 BMW iX SUV comes with a 5G connection.
However, vehicle makers don't just see 5G as something to improve the driving experience. They also recognize its ability to change how they build cars – by connecting intelligent IoT devices in highly automated manufacturing plants.
This work has already started. In 2020, Mercedes-Benz Cars opened what it says is the world's first 5G mobile network for automobile production at its "Factory 56" facility in Sindelfingen, Germany.
Factory 56 is just one of many similar projects in automotive.
But the trend spans multiple verticals.
Example? The collaboration between KT and Hyundai Heavy Industries Group to develop 5G-based smart shipyards.
5G's high data throughput speeds make the above projects possible. But as we've seen, 5G can handle billions of simultaneous low-capacity connections too. This throws up an array of possibilities, not least in healthcare.
The COVID pandemic has already demonstrated the case for accurate universal monitoring of millions of individuals. Similarly, providers are exploring the potential of 5G to power always-on wearables that can send data back to clinicians.
Needless to say, these kinds of ideas could transform the way healthcare is delivered. Ericsson predicts a $76 billion-revenue opportunity by 2026 for operators addressing telemedicine with 5G.
The Internet of Things and 5G are changing the world of telecom, with mobile operators leading the charge. IoT for MNOs offers numerous opportunities and advantages in many IoT use cases, but security is one challenge.
The big challenge: keeping the IoT safe
While the IoT brings a world of possibilities, it also ushers in new threats.
Billions of connected objects create billions of potential entry points for cyber attackers. Just one unsecured device could allow criminals to breach an otherwise secure system.
Regrettably, IoT products often lack good protection. Consumer electronics companies can make these connected objects with little experience in cyber security.
To mitigate this, telcos and other service providers should adopt a secure-by-design approach to IoT architecture. In other words, build in security features from the ground up.
There are three keys to this.
1. Start with a security risk analysis. List your threats, vulnerabilities, the probability of an attack, and the impact of that attack.
2. Put in a solid foundation of trusted digital device IDs and credentials. Store them in the roots of devices at the manufacturing stage. These credentials can prevent device cloning, tampering and theft.
3. Store IDs and other credentials in a tamper-resistant 'secure element'.
Of course, one way to achieve security by design is to choose cyber-secure connectivity products.
How to connect millions of objects securely?
We’ve connected things for many years using IoT modules, terminals and modem cards. Objects aren’t static and need to support a variety of network types, such as Bluetooth, LoRa and 5G. Selecting the right IoT module technology will speed up the time to market and ultimately improve ROI.
Every connected object needs a SIM to connect to a cellular network.
But in the IoT, the manually-inserted SIM familiar to phone users isn’t ideal.
Because connected objects are frequently located in hard-to-reach places or exposed to heat and vibration.
eSIMs and iSIMs to the rescue
For this reason, the mobile industry created the eSIM, soldered into place and measures 2.5mm by 2.3mm – a 60x smaller footprint than the nano-SIM. As of June 2022, over 260 mobile network operators had launched or were planning to launch eSIM services.
Further ahead is an upgrade called the Integrated SIM (iSIM). It's not even physical. Instead, the iSIM is coded directly into the chipset, reducing the cost of distribution and power consumption.
With a dedicated management solution
Whatever the SIM form factor, service providers need a way to connect objects to the right network wherever it’s delivered worldwide and keep track of the millions or even billions of IoT devices in the field.
They can do this with an eSIM Management Platform.
It can connect objects out of the box, monitor device behaviour to detect anomalies in real-time, and send over-the-air updates.
Mobilize the experts
Companies such as Thales, with a long history in network security, are continually updating their IoT products (such as IoT modules, terminals, modem cards and SIMs) with more robust defences.