Q&A: Tiago Rodrigues, Wireless Broadband Alliance, on IoT device roaming
iot roaming

Q&A: Tiago Rodrigues, Wireless Broadband Alliance, on IoT device roaming

The Wireless Broadband Alliance recently published a white paper on IoT device interoperability and roaming. Internet of Business caught up with Tiago Rodrigues, general manager at the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), to learn more about roaming, why it is so important for the Internet of Things, and the best routes towards making it a reality.

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Internet of Business: The WBA’s recent white paper, IoT Interoperability: Dynamic Roaming, says that the IoT market is in urgent need of an IoT device roaming system. Can you explain in more detail why that is?

Tiago Rodriques, WBA

Tiago Rodrigues: “We know the Internet of Things is experiencing significant growth in both consumer and business environments. As such, it should be expected that there will be a consequential impact on the roaming infrastructure used to support IoT services.

“By 2020, there are forecast to be over 20 billion IoT connected devices. This growth will require significant scaling of end-to-end systems, including the network connectivity used to support vast numbers of IoT services and devices.

“Roaming is being newly positioned as one of those essential network sub-systems and, moving forward, it will be imperative to address the IoT interoperability, scalability, and security requirements of those systems. Without this, there will merely be islands of connectivity, which will significantly impact the IoT market, limiting both rollout and the predicted benefits from the technology.”

Why is it so important that an IoT device roaming system exists?

“As the number of connected IoT devices continues to increase, so does the diversity of the IoT devices, technologies, and use cases. IoT devices are following key roaming partners, with lessons learned from the cellular and Wi-Fi worlds, which are made up of very transient devices, infrequent but still transient devices, stationary devices that are permanent roamers, and multi-radio devices for the any of the above.

“The number of cellular roaming registrations attributable to IoT devices has doubled over 12 months, and in 2015 already represented seven percent of all roaming connections. As well as Wi-Fi, this is similarly important to other key technologies delivering the IoT in the unlicensed spectrum space, such as LoRa or MulteFire.

“As we have seen with the evolution of computers, increased mobility will become an even more vital necessity as the IoT continues to evolve, and the need for cross-network roaming of devices can only grow in importance. It will be imperative to address IoT scalability requirements in end-to-end systems to counter the demand and growth.”

Can you give one or two examples of where the absence of IoT device roaming is problematic, and how it would help to fix this?

“When assessing the current IoT market, two major challenges are apparent. One is the wide range of technologies involved and the second is the wide number of potential use cases.

“There are five major IoT segments: healthcare, industrial, buildings, home, and energy. Within each segment there are vast amounts of different device types, technologies, and use cases. For example, devices can range from low-end door-monitoring devices, to asset tracking, to sophisticated monitoring equipment. Each device’s access technology can be further categorised – from short-range Bluetooth, to medium-range Wi-Fi, to long-range LoRa, for example.

“While connectivity is a fundamental requirement for an IoT device, not all IoT devices will be roaming enabled, which is the ability to use the access network of a third party. For example, a stationary, connected smart metering device belonging to a power company that only utilises a specific wide area network, deployed by a municipality, may never be considered to be roaming.

“Primary examples of IoT scenarios that may require roaming typically focus on asset tracking, which itself covers a broad set of use cases, which include users or assets needing autonomous mobility – both between national service provider networks or outbound roaming partners and networks – and cross-border tracking requirements, on outbound roaming partners and networks.

“In contrast to Wi-Fi’s global bands, LoRa and Sigfox are deployed in different bands across different areas. However, roaming requirements have traditionally required the unlicensed band to be harmonised over multiple countries.”

You have suggested the use of the WBA’s Wireless Roaming Intermediary eXchange (WRIX) specification to facilitate IoT device roaming. Can you explain more about what WRIX provides?

“Traditionally, there have been different methods for implementing Wi-Fi roaming across the industry. In order to clarify and standardise these requirements, the WBA created the Interoperability Compliancy Programme (ICP). This provides operators with a common technical and commercial framework for Wi-Fi roaming by utilising the best practices defined by the WBA’s WRIX guidelines.

“WBA WRIX [Wireless Roaming Intermediary eXchange] is a modularised set of service specifications to facilitate commercial roaming between operators, and includes WRIX-i [interconnect], WRIX-i [location], WRIX-d [data clearing], and WRIX-f [financial settlement]. Each of these can be deployed by visited network providers [VNPs] and home service providers [HSPs], either in-house or through an intermediary hub provider. One of the main aims of WRIX is the interoperability of wireless networks.

“Due to its prevalence and maturity, the specifications and methodologies developed by the WBA, such as the WRIX specification for Wi-Fi roaming, can be leveraged across the IoT market for lessons learned, best practices, and standards when developing each technology’s roaming specifications. Using these tried-and-tested methodologies will speed up time to market without having to reinvent the wheel each time.”

So do you envisage this being a global network? 

“Roaming requirements have traditionally required the unlicensed band to be harmonised over multiple countries. Recently, the LoRa Alliance, the global association of companies backing the open LoRaWAN standard for IoT low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs), released its latest technical specifications.

“New features included roaming and the separation of back-end nodes, which will enable IoT devices to connect to and move between LPWANs around the world, supporting large-scale deployments and enabling new global services, such as cargo tracking. The WBA is already liaising with LoRa to fast-track the collaboration between organisations and identify the right path forward.”