Southern Africa is expecting a massive growth of the M2M market through the concept of Internet of Things (IoT).
It is forecast that with the introduction of LTE, there will be exponential growth in this market. M2M devices with 10-year battery life, supported at lower frequencies with the LTE technology and with a resultant reduction in device cost will ensure that the deployment of these M2M devices will expand into new areas previously not serviced with the M2M technology.

Operators in Southern Africa are looking to this new improved M2M capability and are gearing up to support the market as soon as they can. IoT is beneficial in many areas including utility meters, vehicle sensors, point of sales terminals, and security devices. This will bring with it the economic growth required in the region by bringing business growth in sectors such as banking, transportation, energy and public services.

The concept of Internet of Things (IoT) can have a huge positive impact on the society becoming one of the most important technologies to expand human possibilities.

IoT basically interconnects, autonomously exchanges data among devices that are machines or parts of machines, and involves interaction between the physical world and computer based systems, bringing about improvements in user experience and system efficiency and helps people to improve their daily lives. While communications networks form the bedrock on which IoT will grow further as more devices and applications are connected and networks become more pervasive, the expanding complexity of the ecosystem is an area Nokia is assisting stakeholders to navigate.

The Internet of Things, a driver for what Nokia Networks calls the Programmable World, opens tremendous potential to expand the human possibilities of technology. Nokia Networks is already demonstrating key technologies such as 5G that will make mobile networks the natural choice for bringing these possibilities to reality.

While the forecast for the number of connected devices in 2020 is no longer expected to be as high as 50 billion, there remains every indication that the number will still outpace those of devices being used by mobile subscribers by some measure, and will keep growing.

Aji Ed who is the CTO for Nokia Networks in the Middle East and Africa says there are already a number of sectors including the automotive industry in which the IoT vision is further along in its evolution with strong collaboration already in existence between network operators and auto makers. While other sectors such as healthcare; utilities and public services; and retail also stand to benefit significantly from a connected environment, the integration of the various devices, sensors, and networks is much more complex and thus will take longer to come together.

In order to support the further development of IoT, cellular technologies need to evolve in a number of specific ways including supporting increased volumes of low cost connected devices; extending battery life substantially to as much as 10 years in the case of some types of devices; and enhancing coverage.

“The challenges that IoT bring to the network are different to traditional cellular networks,” says Ed. “A traditional notion is to be concerned about end-user throughput, but in the IoT environment factors including the ultra-low cost of devices (under US$5); battery life; low latency of less than a millisecond; and much wider coverage including in-building, come into greater focus.”

As such, Nokia and other technology suppliers are rallying around the standardisation of LTE-M2M (machine-to-machine), or LTE-M, which will likely see commercialised features coming to market in the 2016/2017 timeframe.

M2M communication is needed to support IoT and is defined as data communication among devices without the need for human interaction. This may be data communication between devices and a server, or device-to-device either directly or over a network. Examples of M2M services include security, tracking, payment, smart grid, and remote maintenance/ monitoring.

As mentioned above, the key requirements for LTE networks to successfully support massive M2M deployment range from the presence of wide service spectrum (lower power – wide area); to being able to support devices and offer long battery life, and this is precisely what LTE-M is being designed to enable.

“One obvious advantage of LTE-M is that it can utilise existing LTE networks,” says Ed. “It will be a standardised technology offering support to low bandwidth devices, and we forecast the ultra-dense small cell network we will see in the future will work seamlessly alongside LTE-M.”

What Ed believes is clear is that IoT won’t be based on LTE-M alone, but rather will include other proprietary technologies, raising the question – where will telcos sit in the value chain of the future?

“Some operators are looking to operate in this IoT environment as a direct supplier of services, in a B2C fashion, while others are happy to have an intermediary between themselves and the end-user in a B2B2C model. Each individual operator will have to decide where its strengths are and what segment it wants to sit in,” Ed says.

Ed also forecasts that signalling messages is where the real boom is going to come from in the IoT world, in particular as related to the core network. “There is a big signalling storm coming, and optimisation of it will be a major area of investment and development going forward,” Ed says.

Security and IoT should go hand-in-hand
As a convergence of industries gravitates towards a shared and highly interconnected IoT environment, there have been obvious concerns raised around privacy and security, particularly in light of recent high-profile hacking outbreaks. Ed considers that this issue to be one of the most important in the evolution of IoT. Other technology providers and vendors in the ecosystem feel just as strongly and are dedicating significant resources to security and the prevention of data losses.

We have witnessed the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack last November in which there was a release of confidential data belonging to the company, and the more recent massive attack on the US government that may have resulted in the theft of the personal information of four million federal employees. These incidents clearly indicate what is at stake should cyber security and ultimately the IoT network be compromised.

“Security and the protection of personal data are amongst the primary areas of focus in the development of the IoT environment, and it is taken very seriously by all parties. At Nokia we have a solution called Mobile Guard, for example, which sits in the network and looks to secure subscribers from malware,” Ed says.

There is no question the momentum being gained around IoT shall continue to gather pace, and that the benefits accruing to industrial and social life will be exponential. However, within that outlook there is a need to consider the complexity of the unfolding environment that is being created and ensuring and safeguarding that the heightened levels of data and information exchange are protected.