IoT/M2M - betting against 3GPP/5GPP?
Predicting winning technologies is never easy but always great fun! The people on the front line promoting various technologies are often passionate to a point of religious fervor that can be truly entertaining when an unbeliever dares to question their chosen doctrine.
When I was CTO of Ericsson Ireland (2007-2012) and Head of New business across western and Central Europe I was often presenting at events in front of existing customers, alternative operators and utilities across Europe. Often these presentations were on fibre for fixed or 3GPP as the future wireless technologies of the growing wireless broadband and future M2M markets. There was also a bit of IMS talk but I never was as convinced about IMS. I can only really get excited about technologies when I see a really clear business case.
The religious fervor of WiMax promoters was always fun to question. Having worked with 3GPP technologies since the mid 90’s I really believed in the 3GPP super tanker. Yes it was slow to develop, as global standards are but when it got there boy could it deliver. In the early noughties WiMax was clearly ahead technologically in terms of speed. I argued 3GPP technologies were slower to develop because of the huge installed base and the need for an evolution rather than revolution but that ultimately they would win out due to their economies of scale. 3GPP has always had a core market and customers to look after 1st. It might take longer for 3GPP to meet new market needs but ultimately it is about business and the economies of scale that decide the winners.
WiMax deservedly enjoyed a few years ahead of the game and played and important role providing an often very important alternative to fixed broadband in many markets. But eventually WiMax was over run by a more technologically advanced LTE and the game was up. The best parts of WiMax were subsumed into the 3GPP standards. Ultimately unless WiMax was embraced by a huge number of mobile operators it was never going to win. It was (as far as I could see) an incomplete technology that was too radio focused (at far from ideal frequencies for a radio propagation perspective) and did not put enough consideration into the end-to-end network architecture and the business of generating scale. Few if any operators want to run parallel networks and it was almost impossible for existing mobile operators to integrate into their existing core networks so was not a good business option for them.
Perhaps unlike M2M the requirements for wireless broadband were simple. It was all about speed, capacity and spectral efficiency. There was a simple market requirement and a simple business case/market proposition.
These days M2M it called the Internet of Things (IoT) and we have a number of radio technologies vying for the dominant wide area network position in the soon to explode IoT market that every man and his dog is predicting will be huge. Sigfox, Weightless, RPMA, LoRa, NB-IoT, LTE-M amongst others are all contenders for the crown.
Predictions this time around are a bit more complex. IoT and M2M requirements are very diverse, the business cases are not as simple as broadband and a one-size fits all network will not work. Or at least that’s what many technologists would argue. It is true that the requirements for all the M2M/IoT use cases are incredibly diverse as well as technically and commercially challenging and perhaps a number of technologies like Sigfox, Weightless, LoRa are required to meet these needs.
However, GSM is today the biggest M2M/IoT WAN connection technology globally and the 3GPP now 5GPP mobile evolution supertanker with it’s suite of evolving M2M/IoT technologies is in full flight. It is not hard to imagine this is WiMax 2.0 and that the non xGPP technologies will not dominate due to the economies of scale and existing global footprint.
Perhaps one could even go a step further and say that 5GPP mobile networks of the future will not just meet voice/internet/messaging and IoT needs it will eventually be the dominant over-the-air delivery mechanism for everything….i.e. TV and Radio and perhaps even WiFi will be eaten too. I believe economics of scale, the desire of users for a seamless converged experience and need for mobile broadband spectrum makes this inevitable. So maybe xGPP technologies will eventually be the foundation of the NoE – Network of Everything ;-) Who knows?
The above words are the musings of a non-religious mortal who does not have the ability to see as far as the gods. I have been very lucky to have learnt so much and had great fun over the years debating with many very smart proponents of WiMax and other technologies and I look forward to debating technology with colleagues and peers for many more years to come!
What do you think? What am I missing? What alternative do you see that are worth debating?
P.S. Please excuse any grammar or spelling mistakes, I tend to write off the top of my head