LTE presents both a challenge as well as a huge opportunity for both IoT companies and their customers. New standards continue to emerge, some specifically focused on supporting M2M applications, while debate over spectrum availability and allocations continues in many countries.
Despite this, as Alex Brisbourne, CEO of KORE, one of the world’s leading M2M/IoT service providers, recently explained to Vikrant Gandhi, industry director for mobile and wireless communications at Frost & Sullivan, work on solutions able to exploit the many advantages of LTE are already well advanced.
VG: Starting with the current state of adoption of LTE, can you give some examples of the emerging M2M applications that are running on LTE networks?
Other use cases for LTE include video security, industrial backup, leased line replacement for businesses, and also for ubiquitous Wi-Fi hotspot services. Leading auto makers are already heavily advertising 4G LTE in their cars, which have Wi-Fi routers running over LTE being built into the next-generation of these vehicles. Wi-Fi hotspots in public vehicles, such as buses and trains, are additionally being deployed. Even though it’s still comparatively early, LTE is becoming more important by the day, and will ultimately be used in a broad variety of contexts. For KORE, we’ve already strongly adopted LTE and have a rapidly increasing penetration of LTE devices across our growing customer base.
VG: The relatively higher cost of LTE modules and devices is an industry challenge. When do you see costs dropping to acceptable levels to ensure increased penetration of LTE?
AB: About now! It really is already on the doorstep. KORE will soon have a broad-based initiative underway to educate the market as there are more than a few misconceptions out there. One, for example, is that LTE modules are expensive – that’s the first. LTE Networks don’t have the same coverage as 2G or 3G networks – that’s the second misconception. Thirdly, people also tend to believe that the networks are not fully interoperable. Then, there is also a notion that roaming is patchy in the world of LTE.
In reality, based on KORE’s experience and its knowledge of OEM initiatives, we expect LTE devices to very soon reach the price where 3G GSM devices were as recently as the last quarter of last year – around the mid-$30s kind of point. In practical terms, we are also ending up with four different network technology stacks for LTE. As you fast forward a bit, you will see certain new categories of LTE devices start to appear and they will be in the $10-$12 range, which is where the 2G GSM products are right now. Then, for Class 1 devices, in the spring of next year, these could be in the mid-$20 price range and will certainly be below 3G. That’s a very important starting point. If you look at the lifetime ownership cost, the LTE network cost per megabyte is going to be noticeably lower than that of 2G. You don’t need a gigabyte data consuming application to justify a LTE network; you have a very viable, cost efficient replacement to 3G technologies coming like a train into the market.
Additionally, interoperability is improving all the time. That said, there is still work to be done. There are more than 40 potential LTE bands in total and each specific geography will have its own mix of these. For example, you could be supporting more than three bands over a network running in North America for LTE. But there is concentration also happening in rollouts, which is a good thing.
VG: What are the best practices that you would recommend for enterprises deploying on LTE networks to ensure global coverage?
AB: If you look back at the history of M2M, application providers or enterprises came up with a product idea, which they wanted to be wireless-enabled and they then usually went down the road of doing it by buying a modem and integrating the product. After that, they usually also needed a SIM card to enable wireless connectivity once the final product was ready. This is roughly how things were done. There’s clear evidence now that as this becomes more of an enterprise class adoption process with businesses thinking about deployment issues much earlier in the process. As a result, the connectivity players – such as KORE or the carriers – are being consulted much earlier. So, instead of building a product first, they should be talking with connectivity providers right from the start, outlining their desired coverage and then learning what they should do. Enterprises should open up to what they want to achieve, and then try to minimise the SKUs that they have to support. That way, when they roll out in different countries or regions, they will know which carriers they will have coverage with. That’s KORE’s clear advice to enterprises – go and talk with the service providers before you start building your product. Talking with somebody like a KORE gives you more options as KORE isn’t reliant on any one particular technology or network.
Enterprises should also start to think about their economic models. As you go into multiple national marketplaces, you do have to think about network availability and cost of connectivity. For some applications, 20%-25% of the total lifetime cost of a deployment is going to be the connectivity element. This can all too easily become 50% if not planned properly.
VG: How is KORE positioned to help enterprises maximise LTE opportunities for their M2M deployments?
AB: KORE’s Technology Marketing teams, which include its OEM relationship team and its Analyst team, look closely at what is happening with LTE technology and the spectrum bands. KORE is actually rolling out an awareness programme to help educate the marketplace about LTE and this should be starting in the early part of August 2015. KORE is also doing many things behind the scenes to make it easier for enterprises to adopt LTE for their M2M requirements. For example, KORE is currently working on developing a blanket proposal to create a RFP type of approach, building a commercial framework where KORE’s customers could buy LTE devices as a combined entity and so get better rates. This combined entity could have a substantial purchasing power, even though the customers making up that entity may not need so many devices individually.
KORE has also collaborated with its carrier partners to develop a unique economic model that can help people easily migrate from 2G GSM – even for low bandwidth consuming applications – onto LTE and be able to justify the ROI for those applications. KORE currently supports LTE on all prime carriers here in the U.S. and with Rogers in Canada. We’ll be launching pan-European LTE in the fourth quarter with two carrier partners, plus LTE services in Australia in conjunction with Optus. This will allow KORE to reach all these markets with a ubiquitous LTE product, which are also already supported on KORE’s platform.
So, KORE has a product, it has a programme, and it is providing resources to help people understand where to go and buy the equipment.
AB: Both the billing and usage-allocation aspects of this are important for enterprises. Previously, cost management was done in silos, in a non-integrated manner for different M2M applications. An enterprise is now likely to want to drive multiple applications – these could be a security application, a fleet application, a supply chain application, and so on. Enterprises want to be able to properly identify and analyse the cost of deployments – including the connectivity costs across all of them. KORE has already built significant flexibility into its platform to be able to measure device level activity. In the meantime, if they want to handle end customer billing, then KORE has plug-ins such as RevX that can be used. So, if a product company wants to offer a medical monitoring product to the end customer, then billing, collections, and other related processes can also be handled by KORE. It is similar to the Audi connect® programme where even though the underlying subscription is with the mobile operators, KORE handles processes such as activation, settlement, credit card management and first line personnel support. KORE also sees multi-network capable applications that deliver better reliability becoming more important, and we’re well-positioned to support that development.
Ultimately, KORE helps enterprises get better visibility and control over their internal costs, while also supporting the external processes related to end customer billing for consumer-facing M2M applications.
VG: Overall, what are the key differentiators for KORE in the cellular M2M space? Also, going forward, what more should we expect from KORE in support for next-generation M2M deployments?
AB: KORE will continue to build out its network-technology-of-choice capability. Certainly in some markets, developing and being able to provide a national capability becomes very much more important in serving high bandwidth, content rich applications effectively. As a result, KORE will enter into more relationships with carriers. Over the next two years, KORE will probably have six more networks added to its hub to address emerging marketplaces, particularly those where there are regulatory considerations such as Brazil and India.
We’ll also continue to invest in application enabling toolkits. When KORE looks at the application enabling space, even though these are tough markets to monetise, we feel well positioned thanks to our completely integrated offering. In the next few months, KORE will have around 200,000 devices on its application enabling platform which is focused on helping people build apps where location information is a key component. That is really the secret sauce, in the way other platforms can focus on sensor integration and IT integration as their core competency.
KORE will continue to maintain a strong focus on M2M security and we see that as another opportunity. It’s again an area where the integrated approach, consisting of network, devices, services and security all matter. Additionally, KORE will focus a lot more on supporting the evolution of the enterprise.
To summarise, breadth of coverage, depth of application capabilities, integrated service offerings to the enterprises, and enhanced security will all be important areas for us.
Alex Brisbourne is president and CEO of KORE the world's largest wireless network provider focused exclusively on the rapidly-expanding machine-to-machine (M2M) communications market. He is a prolific speaker and opinion leader and is frequently sourced as an expert on machine communications.