In a contributed article for Internet of Business, Robin Kent, director of European operations at telco software company Adax, discusses how mobile network operators need to get their packet transport layers in order.
While IoT device manufacturers are bullish about the future of connected devices, those who must lay the infrastructure for these to work are more reserved. A recent industry report from Telecoms.com finds that the vast majority of telcos (more than eight out of ten, in fact) admit that they are not ready for IoT and only a few show signs of actual progress beyond this general state of unreadiness.
Despite its slow progress, IoT still promises to fundamentally reshape the telecoms industry. The reliability of connections, after all, is vital for the growth and success of the IoT revolution. And while many predict that 5G will go some way to supporting the vast number of connections needed, there are still likely to be problems with performance and reliability if the right solutions and network infrastructure aren’t implemented.
Packet problems ahead
The huge scale of IoT adoption is a major challenge for network operators. Experts believe that network operators have the power to unlock the true capabilities of IoT, but speed is of the essence and the industry is frantically trying to keep up with end-user demands and expectations. In light of this, a key problem that needs to be addressed is the protocols needed to run IoT applications.
If IoT is to truly take off and its full capabilities realized, operators must be prepared to maintain enough capacity in the core network, and more importantly, manage the connections to keep a IoT-associated packet moving along, without creating bottlenecks.
Typically, GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) solutions have been able to handle up to 25,000 to 30,000 Packet Data Protocol (PDP) contexts per application, but operators now need to be looking towards coping with millions. By anticipating this huge surge, operators should prepare appropriately, rather than waiting for huge numbers of packets to turn up unexpectedly at their door.
Operators need to consider a GTP solution that enables traffic capacity to be increased by accelerating data paths and removing bottlenecks, which in turn, accelerates the GTP tunnels and packet filtering. This results in higher performance and vastly improves quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) for the end user. Bandwidth throttling or rate-limiting is performed to guarantee QoS return on investment (ROI) via the efficient use of bandwidth.
Operators should also be prepared for the varying levels of service requirements across different applications. This will be vital when device numbers are massive; both the signaling and data plane throughout will be dependent upon good performance from GTP-U tunnels. The effective solution to low-latency tolerance is a control plane issue and requires good GTP-C tunnels and most importantly effective SCTP [Stream Control Transmission Protocol]. In other words, it’s basically an issue of using transport layer protocols to keep a packet moving to where it needs to be.
Another potential headache for mobile operators is that IoT applications have many additional security requirements, because of the nature of the endpoint devices and the potential high level of service criticality. In serving a high volume of devices, networks are exposed to signaling storms, and intentionally malicious denial of service attacks. Such attacks can have a serious detrimental impact on devices, and the quality of experience the end user expects and demands. In a bid to tackle such issues, operators should adhere to the GSMA’s IoT Security Guidelines for Network Operators.
These guidelines have been designed with the entire IoT ecosystem in mind, including device manufacturers, service providers, developers, and, where this topic of discussion is concerned, network operators. The GSMA describes the most fundamental security mechanisms as; identification and authentication of entities involved in the IoT service; access control to the different entities that need to be connected to create the service; data protection to guarantee the security and privacy of the information carried by the network for the IoT service; and the processes and mechanisms to ensure availability of network resources and protect them against attack.
Prepare now or fall behind
It’s clear that IoT is only set to grow in adoption, so capacity and security must be an issue that operators address now or face falling behind competitors in delivering the high level of service customers have come to expect in the connected world. To ensure the capabilities of IoT can be embraced and implemented, network operators must take the lead and apply their own measures and protocols.
An effective packet core needs to be dimensioned for cost-effective deployment and operations, but it should also be able to expand rapidly to maintain reliable performance as the number of users, devices and packets keeps growing.