Communication technologies have evolved rapidly over the past decade and the pace of change is only increasing. The latest trend today is the growth in volume of Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications. The number of connected devices in the IoT/M2M industry could grow exponentially, putting unprecedented load on cellular infrastructure. To cope up with the rising demand, the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Program) Standards body which standardizes cellular wireless (2G/3G/LTE) is looking to define new specifications for mobile networks. This paper talks about the challenges posed by IoT/M2M explosion and their consequences in the cellular ecosystem. We will also talk about how features in the 3GPP Release 10 and beyond will address these challenges.
What’s New in Cellular Technology?
Mobile technology has undergone massive changes since the introduction of digital 2G networks in the early nineties. Web support became a reality with the introduction of General Packet Radio System (GPRS) and fast Web browsing, and video calls were made possible by 3G networks.
With the adoption of Long Term Evolution (LTE), even high-definition video streaming has become practical. As data transfer costs fall and speeds increase, we believe that businesses will look to leverage these networks for more than just telephony and Web content. Already, the IoT/M2M ecosystem spans industries like healthcare, utilities (metering), automobiles, and so on.
According to a market intelligence company, the number of active wireless connected devices will rise to about 40 billion by 2020, more than double the current number. Many of the M2M devices currently use the GPRS module for connectivity. Such a cellular IoT has been practical so far because M2M devices needed relatively low data rates. Moreover, GPRS has enabled longer battery life and more reliable connectivity than 3G. However, as networks move from GSM to LTE technologies, M2M connectivity solutions will also have to change.
The global standards body, 3GPP, has been playing an active role in addressing these concerns. Efforts in this direction started with 3GPP Release 10, which introduced the Machine Type Communications (MTC) architecture. We think that it has been instrumental in providing standardized features and specifications for both cellular networks and M2M modules.
Device and Network Requirements for Cellular Networks
In order to assimilate a large number of devices, all stakeholders - device manufacturers, network operators, service providers, government agencies and regulators—need to agree on a broad set of requirements around the technologies involved.
Currently, we see to that if these are satisfied by both, proprietary solutions and the ones based on 3GPP standards. We have divided these into three broad categories based on the functions that they address - device requirements, network requirements and common requirements.
Faster Data Transfer Rate
IoT services currently require low data transfer rates between device and application server and can run well with GPRS connectivity. However, data-intensive applications like video surveillance, emergency health services and automotive devices will function only with transfer rates of 3G or LTE networks.
Since LTE provides better spectral efficiency and flexible usage of bandwidth, we firmly believe that of the two technologies, LTE would be a better candidate for M2M modules due to its spectral efficiency, competitive cost and dynamic bandwidth allocation.
Ultra-Low Power Consumption
IoT devices usually have to run on extremely low power – much lower than typical LTE handhelds. Certain remote locations may even require the device to run for up to 10 years on the power output of a few AA batteries. It is critical for such devices to remain idle for prolonged periods. They should also be able to accept greater latency and longer gaps between transmissions.
We believe that the following 3GPP features (refer Figure 1) would help reduce power consumption in M2M devices: