Mobile Network Operators: The Coming Challenges

As introduced in my previous post, the world's MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) are poised to reap the benefits of an increasingly connected IoT (Internet of Things). To do so, they face significant challenges to their current operating methods and franchise models. eUICC (embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card) technology offers a great many benefits - but what is the current state of the art?

At the low-capacity data carrying range, MNOs are currently on the cusp of rolling out 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standardised technologies such as NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) or LTE-M (Long Term Evolution Cat-M1). Ideal for sensor technology, these wireless protocols will sit alongside other non-3GPP LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) wireless networks such as LoRa, Sigfox, and Ingenu - at least for the foreseeable future. These technologies are already being deployed around the world, largely by new enterprises, such as smart city and building related organisations, and some MNOs too.

eUICC for MNOs

Conversely at the high-data capacity carrying range, MNOs are basking in a new dawn of not only high-speed, high-transit 4G/LTE, but increasingly the replacement of wired IoT devices with wireless devices. In this area they are practically unchallenged, as other wireless technologies become largely uneconomical and less ubiquitous.

For the first time in the history of IoT we have MNOs with a true carrier capability; with high and low-capacity, wireless data technologies starting to ramp up and open up high-growth, high-volume connected device markets. However, there are other things happening right now in the IoT connectivity world that are fundamental to enable scaling, to create huge value, and which, in all likelihood, will change the landscape of the IoT connectivity sector beyond all recognition.

MNOs: The Global Market

The DNA of the MNO sector is a fascinating and not insubstantial topic in its own right. The dominant players are only dominant in certain, limited, regions of the world. US carriers tend to be US-centric; albeit at least one is somewhat "bonded" to a pre-defined "alliance" of other MNOs around the world via the Jasper, now Cisco Jasper, CMP (Connectivity Management Platform).

The platform is "pre-defined" because it takes time, and significant cost and resources, to add additional MNOs around the world to the platform technology upon which the "alliance" is based. Ownership of the customer roaming through more than one of these "alliances", or partnerships of networks, presents its own problem - who owns the customer? With global enterprise clients now increasingly sourcing from a single procurement department, inevitably they will seek to deal and contract with a single lead. Under the current framework, that can prove complicated if not impossible.

The UK and Europe: Vodafone

Vodafone has for quite some time been one of the more evolved MNOs, in terms of network ownership, and associations across different countries / regions. For IoT, Vodafone widely relies on their own GDSP (Global Data Service Platform) CMP. However, this CMP doesn't easily extend to include non-Vodafone companies; thereby introducing variations in roaming agreements, disparate platform technologies and support capability. A wider country / regional solution is required to achieve truly global connectivity.

Chinese MNOs

Chinese MNOs are huge; built largely upon servicing multiple province markets in China. At some point expect at least one Chinese operator, if not all, to make a move to extend its global connectivity capability, as IoT continues to scale up, driven by global brand connectivity requirements.

Softbank owns cellular infrastructure in Japan and Sprint in the US - thus providing direct control of network footprint and technologies; but ownership of networks in all countries simply isn't a feasible option, irrespective of the substantial size and funding available to these giant operators. To create a truly global network capable of maximising the profit and opportunity made possible by IoT, all MNOs will have to modernise.

In my next post, we will look at exactly how Stream Technologies can help to build a truly global interconnected network.

» Read Part 3 Here. «