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With mobile penetration rates touching 100% globally, the Internet of Things (IoT) provides an excellent opportunity for Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to expand their business beyond the consumer segment by providing connectivity and enhanced services to IoT enterprises. The rapid expansion of connected devices and services is transforming the Telco business with new revenue opportunities, even as operators push to play a significant role beyond just simple connectivity. Adoption of newer technologies like NB-IoT, LTE-M and 5G will further boost this industry by enabling more use cases and fostering innovation.

Why is IoT Roaming Important?

IoT enterprises expect CSPs to deliver a high quality of service (QoS) and worldwide connectivity for IoT roaming, at a low cost. IoT is a global business, where enterprises can ship their connected devices across the globe. Devices like smart meters may end up being stationed permanently in one location, while others like connected vehicles may need to be provided service across multiple countries. Such enterprises, rather than establishing an agreement with multiple CSPs around the world, prefer to partner with one CSP for their global connectivity needs. Connected devices often must run for several years on their built-in power source, without needing human intervention (unlike consumers, who can easily turn phones on and off when needed!) A CSP must therefore ensure that their network has all the tools necessary to provide the appropriate level of roaming service and quality to a diverse base of enterprise customers. Considering the sheer volume, variety, and usage patterns of IoT devices, it is quite evident that IoT roaming needs to be viewed very differently from consumer roaming.

Roaming Wholesale Management, Steering & Monitoring for Connected Devices

Wholesale roaming agreements are already quite complex with a variety of discounting and charging models. The addition of traffic segmentation and new charging models specific to IoT roaming will further add to the complexity. Manual operations using excel spreadsheets will no longer suffice, and CSPs will require a tool that can comprehensively manage the most complex deals and enable them to actively simulate and test different scenarios, and conclude discount agreements while optimizing costs and revenue. Moreover, the solution must be compliant with GSMA's Billing & Charging Evolution (BCE) standards, which have been designed as an evolution to the traditional TAP mechanism to handle wholesale billing & settlement for massive IoT usage, among others.

The legacy steering platform used by CSPs will also need an overhaul. The cost model and QoS requirements for IoT devices vary significantly when compared to consumer traffic, creating a need for sophisticated differential steering policies. For instance, enterprises may not want certain segments of roaming IoT devices serving mission-critical applications to be steered between networks. Steering solutions must ensure service continuity by using advanced algorithms to guarantee service accessibility for specific IoT segments, move IoT devices to low-cost networks whenever possible, and prioritize IoT devices over consumer devices in specific situations. Considering the high volume of IoT traffic, the steering platform needs to operate relatively more autonomously and in close concert with wholesale management and quality monitoring solutions to help avoid service degradation while managing cost imperatives. Moreover, steering platforms will no longer be controlled solely by CSPs as many enterprises will expect to manage steering settings for their devices (and customers) in real-time. Hence, the platform must expose interfaces to help enterprises manage steering policies for their devices.

Service assurance and monitoring is another key aspect of IoT roaming, with the need to balance both quantitative and qualitative components. More connected devices mean potentially more (and diverse) problems, and a single instance of an outage of a critical IoT device may lead to negative impacts on the CSP’s enterprise business. By gaining a complete view of roaming IoT devices in real-time, mobile operators can optimize their networks for IoT traffic, identify issues with roaming partners proactively, ensure the required QoS, and ultimately monetize IoT better. Such roaming monitoring tools must feed into the steering platforms to steer IoT devices to an appropriate network on detecting outage or service degradation in the preferred network.

Monetizing Permanent Roaming

IoT roaming also presents an interesting challenge for CSPs in the domestic marketplace. Enterprises bidding for IoT-related service contracts in a particular country may choose to partner with an international CSP rather than relying on a domestic CSP. Such international CSPs enable the IoT services by piggybacking on the connectivity of one or more national operators, using specially designed roaming agreements, leading to devices “permanently” roaming in that country. In such a scenario, international CSPs end up making most of the profits, limiting the role of the national operator to just a 'bit pipe'. Cleary, the national operator needs to innovate and find ways to monetize such permanent roaming devices by proper monitoring and segmentation. In such permanent roaming scenarios, specific commercial strategies, charging models and management tools are needed on the operators' side

Segmenting traffic into IoT and consumer segments requires a tool that uses analytics and machine learning to detect IoT devices based on various behavior and usage patterns. Without such advanced tools, IoT traffic cannot be effectively differentiated from consumer traffic. Once the IoT segment is identified, the next step is to apply commercially agreed permanent roaming rules to apply the appropriate charging models. In case there is no commercially agreed charging model with the roaming partner for IoT, the CSP may push to re-negotiate their wholesale agreements with specific provisions for IoT roaming related tariffs and charging models. Permanent roamer reports generated from the analytics tool can be used as evidence while negotiating the wholesale deal.

Specific Requirements of IoT Enterprises

An enterprise offering connected device-based services may come up with its own set of specific roaming requirements around policy control, APN management, local breakout and more. CSPs must ensure that their roaming and core network systems are geared to handle such requests from IoT enterprises. Managing the footprint and services of roaming devices in real-time is key to meeting regulatory requirements and prevent loss due to fraudulent use. For instance, a device shipped to a specific country should only get service access in that country while the services must be barred or throttled in other locations, to guard against unauthorized usage and fraud.

In order to gain and retain market share in the connected devices domain, CSPs need to continuously differentiate themselves by providing the best worldwide connectivity at the least cost. It may not be feasible for the host CSP to provide good roaming rates globally by just relying on their bilateral wholesale rates. Host CSPs that do not have good bilateral wholesale roaming rates may rely on Multi IMSI platforms (and roaming hubs) to enable cost-effective roaming.

IoT Roaming in 2021 & Beyond

IoT roaming growth was slow in the year 2020 due to the widespread impact of Covid-19. However, the growth is expected to pick up starting as early as mid-2021. According to the Kaleido Intelligence report, the total IoT cellular connection base will grow on average at 25% between 2021 and 2025. Meanwhile, IoT roaming connections are expected to grow at 36% annually during the same period. The time is ripe for CSPs to enter and expand their share this growing and exiting market!

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