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MEF Mobile IoT Advisor, Andrew Parkin-White is joined by an expert panel comprising Sam Barker, Lead Analyst of Juniper Research, Kim Bybjerg, VP, IoT and Mobility at Tata Communications and Alistair Elliott, CEO Solutions of the Pod Group. The panel tackled key issues and questions around the development of the Mobile IoT roaming market including market drivers, supplier challenges and importantly how to monetise the opportunities that IoT roaming affords.

The panel began by exploring the size of the IoT global connectivity market. Kim sees a huge opportunity in this area, but more importantly the focus should be on capturing this market value, how to enable it and grow it even more rapidly. Alistair’s opinion is that this market as scaling up and is already seeing extensive growth for global roaming and in-country services.

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Sam pointed to Juniper’s research in IoT roaming and believes there is a considerable opportunity with the launch of IoT networks in multiple countries. He sees that extending lower cost IoT roaming services to smaller enterprises will fuel market growth. The panel considers that the USA and China are key markets with Europe following closely behind. Emerging markets, including Latin America, are now starting to adopt solutions and would represent a future growth area.

Demand for global connectivity is very apparent and the panel turned its attention to the key market segments that have a need for such connectivity and the challenges they face in adopting a solution. Alistair stated that demand for cross-border roaming began in the telematics industry and that asset tracking is now a key requirement for high value international loads. Maintaining connectivity during transit is a sweet spot for IoT roaming and he believes that more use cases will emerge including healthcare monitoring for individuals and supporting the requirements of lone workers as they travel.

Demand for global connectivity is very apparent – cross-border roaming began in the telematics industry, asset tracking is now a key requirement for high value international loads. Maintaining connectivity during transit is a sweet spot for IoT roaming

Sam believes that the return on investment is critical for enterprises and with the cost of IoT connectivity falling and affordability increasing, more enterprises will adopt solutions. He sees that smart cities and agriculture could represent lucrative segments and provided the example of large US farms that would need a roaming product from more than one operator to cover their land. Tata is active in the automotive and airline industry and Kim considers that the cross-border nature of communications in these industries is driving the need for IoT roaming. He states that the market is really any enterprise with a coverage need that would span more than one operator.

Are the networks in place for delivering international IoT connectivity? Kim says that clearly there is cellular coverage across the globe but enterprises needing IoT roaming would need to work with multiple operators or an MVNO providing a more global footprint. He is of the opinion that IoT network technologies are suitable to meet the need for roaming with technologies such as LoRa and SigFox providing infill coverage with 5G around the corner. Alistair points out that the roaming market is mature and this is particularly the case for 2G and 3G networks, with 4G roaming having an increasing number of roaming agreements. He believes that there are still questions over the roaming capabilities of new technologies, such as NB-IoT, with questions still surrounding the ability to roam on future 5G networks.

Sam equally sees these issues on network technologies and his perspective is that more roaming agreements are being signed with further room for progression of IoT roaming agreements with operators and IoT service users highly motivated towards global solutions. He believes that roaming on 5G appears to be an afterthought which could detract from market development with a need to focus on how to address usage policy and charging for the amount for international IoT data transmitted, particularly with higher bandwidth and lower latency required. He does not believe that new commercial models will necessarily evolve. More probable, is that there will be adaptations to current IoT roaming arrangements.

The panel turned its attention to the issue of monetisation of IoT roaming. Alistair stated that MNOs may not have the required footprint or maturity to offer IoT connectivity to meet global enterprise needs and an MVNO, having multiple roaming agreements in place, being network agnostic and having a single management platform in place, is in a position to meet these flexible deployment requirements. He also believes that as connectivity specialists, MVNOs can offer focus to key market segments.

Kim points out that IoT commercial pricing is not currently covered by regulation and that price reductions have happened because of competition in the market. He concurs that MNOs have blind spots in their coverage and that an enterprise requiring international coverage would need to work with a service provider that can offer IoT connectivity wherever it is required, but only paying a local connection rate for global coverage. He supports the point that an IoT roaming MVNO has the focus to meet global enterprise needs and it is their core business. Sam supports this view and sees the MVNOs having the opportunity to provide IoT roaming services without the need for the enterprise to negotiate multiple roaming agreements with an MNO.

Managing multi-county provisioning and billing is a key consideration for enterprises and ease of use of a platform is important. Alistair is of the view that this will become increasingly important over time as enterprises need simplicity in this respect. Kim supports this view and says that the key requirement is to make life easier for customers.

Moving the debate to remote SIM provisioning and embedded SIMs for IoT roaming, Sam points out that faster deployment times and efficiency of provisioning are key benefits. With over 50% of devices now being shipped with embedded SIMs, he believes that this number will grow rapidly particularly if the market is educated on the benefits of this approach. Kim sees the eSIM as offering flexibility with customers being able to choose how they wish to introduce these devices into their operations. Alistair sees the eSIM as a requisite part of an MVNO offering and it can be the case that the MNO prefers to tie in the customer to their SIM and management platform. He recommends that the focus not be purely on the cost of IoT connectivity but on the ability to manage and troubleshoot the service.

In terms of IoT market evolution, Sam expects a greater number of enterprises to adopt IoT roaming solutions with education of the market key to allay nervousness over deploying IoT applications internationally. Kim sees that the market will continue along a growth trajectory and Sam believes that market growth will draw in more enterprises and providers of IoT roaming offerings. With the sunsetting of 2G and 3G services, enterprises will need to pay careful attention to the lifespan of devices that can remain in the field for ten or more years. Kim is of the opinion that futureproofing is important in the event of sunsetting and that organisations should not tie themselves into a provider that cannot migrate to a newer network technology and that devices should be 4G compatible. Sam sees the interest in low power networks growing as a result of these sunsets, particularly if they are operating on LTE networks.

Andrew Parkin-White

MEF Advisor