The IoT ecosystem has evolved as a result of better efficiency and reduced cost. Matt Jackson, product manager, Twilio, discusses how global IoT deployments have become easy and impact the ever-growing IoT ecosystem.
The world is becoming smaller, and global IoT use cases are becoming increasingly standard. Fortune Business Insights projects the global IoT market to reach $1.5 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 24.9% during the forecast period. A key driver for growth is the entire IoT ecosystem has evolved to enable global deployments due to increased efficiency and reduced cost.Â
These deployments allow IoT builders to get information to and from the device and solve problems that are affecting our physical world. There are a growing number of use cases that take advantage of IoT in ways never before available, such as enabling a delivery robot to navigate to its destination or tracking endangered species in conservation areas to help fend off poachers.
Connectivity is the critical fabric that enables the IoT. According to a recent IDC InfoBrief detailing results from a survey of over 1,000 IoT decision-makers, 66% of respondents with international deployments are utilizing multiple mobile carriers.Â Â
Streamlining connectivity management has been a major challenge in the past.Â Prior to cellular IoT connectivity platforms being built for use across the globe, manufacturers needed to seek out and negotiate usage with multiple regional network partners. As you can imagine, this created a frustrating process and resulted in a solution that often was only viable in a very limited market.Â
Now, with the help of global provider platforms, IoT device manufacturers can scale into new markets with a lower investment and cross borders when they’re ready. Let’s explore each component needed for cellular IoT deployments and how they have matured to provide connectivity across the entire globe.
Some traditional modems used to only work on a single carrier, which meant that they would only work in a specific country. We saw this specifically with older 2G or 3G installations. If a company utilized a SIM that only works in Venezuela and hardware that only works in North America, it unsurprisingly would not work. This situation created SKU complexity in that you would need to have hardware and SIMs that worked in both, requiring multiple SIM SKUs and hardware SKUs that would need to be mixed and matched, causing a ballooning catalog to be managed.
Now, we’re seeing an increasing number of modems being built for global deployment. With global hardware becoming the standard, modems can be deployed across borders without the hassle that comes with mixing and matching multiple carriers. The proliferation of 4G-LTE and new cellular network options specifically built for IoT, such as LTE Cat-M (also known as LTE-M), further encourages the development of hardware that is deployable across the globe.Â Â Â
Global hardware has opened doors to new markets without any additional investment. With the rise of the cloud and e-commerce, products can be purchased and delivered to customers that builders never directly marketed to on the other side of the world.Â Â
Roaming is an agreement between two or more network providers from different countries or regions, allowing subscribers from one network to use the services of another network. With global IoT deployments becoming the norm, roaming capabilities are crucial to ensure fleets of IoT devices can transmit data inexpensively and reliably.Â
Yet, finding the right roaming partner can be tricky. You’re putting your trust in them to not only manage the relationship with their other carrier partners but also manage each of the other customers, ensuring no abuse on the networks they are providing access to so that you can all continue to stay connected.Â
Going out and striking your own connectivity relationships with local carriers can avoid this risk but at significant costs. This is the roaming risk-and-reward trade-off. Maybe that’s fine if 99% of a company’s business is only roaming within a handful of countries and the relationships with the local carriers are secure and guaranteed. But if the situation with any of the carriers changes, it will ripple out to all of the companies dependent on it. Losing access in a country or to a specific radio technology could lead to a catastrophic loss of hardware built for that specific country or already deployed there.Â Â
Usually, the best solution is to integrate with a roaming partner, as you will get connectivity around the world with a single integration. That said, getting your connectivity from a single roaming relationship still exposes you to risk.Â There are two technologies that can help significantly mitigate this: eSIM and multi-IMSI.
Building strong relationships with multiple parties can be accomplished using a newer technology called eSIM, allowing the ability to essentially load digital versions of SIMs over the air. Imagine 10 SIMs all in the same device that could be swapped because you can load them and take them off remotely.
For instance, if a company deploys its wearable devices, such as connected watches, through a single network carrier sold through their stores and uses an eSIM, then that network profile is placed on the device that sells through that channel. But as soon as it leaves the country, it switches to whoever is the better international partner. If the device manufacturer needs to change partners, their partner’s profile can be loaded over the air. The customer is still wearing the device and would not even know that anything has changed. This gives device manufacturers more protection and the ability to change to a different carrier in the future.Â
eSIM allows you to onboard additional connectivity providers and switch between them; however, device manufacturers still need to integrate with each of those providers meaning multiple integrations, multiple relationships to manage, and paying for each SIM profile.
Typically when you buy a SIM, it has a single international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) onboard. This IMSI is what is used to access different cellular networks when roaming. If a connectivity provider’s roaming relationship changes (the big risk I talked about earlier), the SIMs using the IMSI’s from that provider will be impacted.Â Â
Now it’s possible to put multiple IMSIs from different connectivity partners onto a single SIM, managed by software running on the SIM, and that can be updated over the air (similar to an eSIM). Connectivity platforms that leverage multi-IMSI SIMs, such as Twilio’s Super SIM, allow connectivity providers to mix and match different IMSIs to offer wide catalogs of networks onto which SIMs can roam while also allowing them to update them over the air to respond to changes to roaming relationships, so you don’t have to.
Multi-IMSI SIM profiles can even be loaded onto eSIMs to offer multiple layers of control and redundancy to allow both connectivity providers and device manufacturers to take advantage of evolving global roaming relationships without changing out any of the hardware on a device.
While roaming is far better than going direct due to time savings, simple integrations and likely discounted pricing, having an escape hatch solution like eSIM or multi-IMSI protects you from the inherent risks of a single roaming relationship.Â
The Rise of IoT-as-a-Service Platforms
The power for global expansion lies within the cloud. Around the cloud, everyone’s obsessed with the customer experience and understanding that businesses succeed or fail based on their ongoing customer service. We’re seeing this same mentality in successful IoT companies.Â
Rather than simply building and selling a device that collects some data points that are then dumped directly into a customer’s data store and then cutting ties with it, we are seeing the rise of platforms where IoT device manufacturers continue to manage and service devices for their lifetime. These companies are ditching high upfront costs in exchange for recurring revenue models and offering more and more services to accompany the IoT devices that make up their core product offering.Â Now, the trend for managing entire fleets with APIs and a centralized console allows companies to improve operational efficiencies and benefit from constant platform improvements.