The market for Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks, particularly NB-IoT and CAT-M1, is heating up. More and more Mobile Network Operators are engaged in trials or have already launched commercial services. Manufacturers are adding NB-IoT and CAT-M1 support to their sensors, modules, and devices. To date, Operators have taken a “horses for courses” approach by deploying a range of LPWA network standards for varying IoT application needs. However, many are predicting that the market momentum will swing from the first-to-market unlicensed LPWA standards (e.g., LoRa, Sigfox) to the emerging licensed LPWA standards (e.g., NB-IoT, CAT-M1), which are forecasted to capture over two-thirds of the LPWA market by 2020, according to ABI Research.
Some of the advantages cited for licensed LWPA technologies include: scalability, security, coverage, extended range in-building/underground, and easy deployment into existing cellular networks. For example, many operators have made their Radio Access Networks (RAN) NB-IoT-capable with a simple software update. The 3GPP specification for NB-IOT and CAT-M1 introduces two new network elements to an Operator’s mobile core network: CSGN and SCEF. The CSGN combines features of the LTE MME, SGW and PGW, while adding Cellular IoT (CIoT) optimizations such as: Control and Data Plane optimizations, Device triggering, Enhancements for battery savings, and more. Cisco Ultra IoT, introduced at MWC 2017, and now in trials with several Mobile Operators, provides these CSGN features and more. Cisco Ultra IoT is based on the NFV technology of Cisco Ultra Services Platform, which enables it to easily scale up and down virtualized resources based on application demands, as well as to support many scenarios from distributed, local points of presence to centralized, large-scale deployments.
Then there’s the SCEF, or the Services Capability Extension Function, which is an entirely new 3GPP network component. Within Cisco Ultra IoT, Cisco has delivered an enhanced SCEF that not only supports 3GPP standards but also offers a solution that allows Operators to grow their IoT business by bridging the gap between the network and IoT applications. The Cisco eSCEF is a horizontal framework residing between IoT devices and IoT applications that:
- organizes device data, with data ingestion, storage and brokering capabilities
- associates endpoints with apps, by normalizing devices, access types, and IoT transport protocols for IoT Applications via a unified API layer
- implements multiple network service capabilities including identity management, application level authentication, and secure connection over any access, triggering, buffering, grouping, application event subscription and notification.
Linkages that exist between the Cisco eSCEF and Cisco CSGN elements of Cisco Ultra IoT make Cisco’s solution unique, enabling the Cisco eSCEF to have awareness of the end device’s state, location, and mobility events.
So, what does all this mean for the Operator? Cisco Ultra IoT not only hides network complexities from IoT applications, it exposes network capabilities to be used by IoT applications via an Open API. This creates new Operator monetization opportunities for new network services to devices and apps while providing flexibility in how those services are charged for. For example, Enterprises and their IoT app providers can:
- Set own programmable policy control and enforcement for IoT devices and apps
- Define data rate enforcement policies with various levels of granularity, for example, at a device, group, and enterprise level.
- Establish new charging and accounting mechanisms to meet Enterprise business needs, for example, Operators could charge by network sessions or events rather than by data rate
With these horizontal capabilities supporting use case development across a variety of vertical IoT applications and devices, Cisco Ultra IoT opens new monetization opportunities for Operators in IoT markets such as Smart Cities, Transportation, Utilities, Intelligent Buildings, Agriculture, and more.
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