It may seem odd to think of the M2M market as being limited by phone numbers, but interestingly this inherent limitation is becoming increasingly important from the perspective of an M2M network service provider. 2G and 3G mobile endpoints (the primary pipe for M2M devices) will in fact not work without the use of telephone numbers.
Definitely strange, because in the majority of use-cases associated with M2M, an M2M device is not expected to place a voice call. When a device needs to initiate a data session, the first step is to authenticate onto the GSM network using the telephone number or Mobile Subscriber Integrated Services Digital Network-Number (MSISDN. This GSM authentication is the first in a series of steps required on both, the GSM network and the GPRS network in order to establish a GPRS data session. When 2G/3G networks were designed, using them for non-phone M2M devices was not even a consideration. But since we are calling it the “Internet of Things” these days, doesn’t it make sense to consider using IP addressing rather than phone numbers as a way to identify M2M devices in the future?
Let’s say that the M2M market grows to the 50 Billion device level (which by the way we believe to be wildly overstated and will more likely level out at about 2 billion sometime around 2020), there is going to have to be a wholesale change to the phone numbering schema. The only reason numbers are attached to devices in the first place is because of archaic billing practices and voice routing requirements.
The regulatory bodies could issue new numbering ranges, or reorganize the numbering plan in some other way, but in our opinion a numberless environment is the way to go. Why? Because telephone numbers are geocentric by design and simply hinder the ability for M2M connections to move freely about the world. Quite simply, numbering schemes are what allow roaming-related costs to remain attached to the devices.
What’s key here is that this is not a technical issue. Rather, it is a commercial and political issue. Lots of entities have very logical and well-considered reasons to keep numbering systems and geographic separation in place, but for high-value M2M markets like asset management, supply chain security and healthcare it is time to break away from traditional ways of thinking.
We’d even advocate for (gasp!) M2M device portability among operators.
These are certainly challenging issues that cannot be solved overnight, but if we are really going to be able to use M2M to detect earthquakes, or protect against counterfeit pharmaceuticals or make aviation more efficient, then we as an industry must push them to the forefront.
By Danny Thomas, VP Operations
Danny has over 23 years of experience in the wireless and telecommunications industry working in Asia, North America, and the U.K. He joined KORE in 2009 and was instrumental in driving the implementation of our state-of-the-art, fully redundant network architecture. Danny joined KORE after 14 years with AT&T Mobility as the Sr. Director of National Wireless Data Operations, where he worked on several state-of-the-art wireless projects including the launch of the first 2G, 2.5G, and 3G networks and the launch of the Apple I-Phone.