Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What does Internet of Things mean for service providers?

The Rhizotron, Kew Gardens, London.

Industry experts, vendors and conference organisers around the world are hyping about Internet of Things (IoT) and even more specific things such as Industrial Internet, but what does it all mean for network service providers, operators and enterprises?

To find answers to that question we must first select our viewpoint. In this blog post, we look IoT from the perspective of network service provider, for example, operator, enterprise or industrial IT department.  Let us start by looking first at the graph drafted accordingly to Gartner, IDC, Strategy Analytics, Machina Research, company filings and Business Insider Intelligence estimates.
According to business analysts and market research companies there will soon be a growing numbers of IoT devices entering into networks along the existing ones. The difference is that even when there has already been variation in tablets, smartphones and personal computers, variation will be far greater among the IoT devices. 

the home automation system designed by loren amelang himself

We may have sensor devices sending data only once in a day in our networks, and also devices sending high definition camera feed over the same network. If we take this a step further, in the old networks, all or most of the devices and sensors have been provided and maintained by a single vendor or service provider. In the future, in the same networks, there will a growing number of IoT devices that are controlled and maintained by different service providers and vendors. 

This means that IoT brings also new and escalated challenges for network service providers in addition to normal capacity challenges:
  • managing and provisioning configurations to the ever growing variety of devices
  • defining, creating and configuring subscriptions and subscription parameters to the ever growing variety of customers and devices
  • handling security configurations in multi-service provider environment, separating service providers and networks from each other
  • federating identity management instead of providing a single source identity management
  • scaling the authentication, authorisation and accounting (AAA) infrastructure from single identity provider model to multiple identity providers model
  • coping with multi-access (WiFi, LTE, 3G, 2G), multi-homing devices and their AAA
  • connecting services and AAA with various IoT service providers
There are three key approaches to be considered in solving these issues:
  • utilising and favouring open standard APIs, protocols and interfaces
  • measuring and monitoring everything
  • automating everything (for example, service/subscription provisioning, configuration provisioning, security, identity federation) 
Requiring and selecting products and solutions with open standard APIs, protocols and interfaces ensures that the components can be connected together regardless of the supplier. It also means that both the old and new components can be combined into common infrastructure without having to upgrade all other components at the same time. 

Data Heap

Decisions cannot be made without data. Measuring and monitoring the infrastructure, network, devices, sensors and nodes makes it possible to gather data about current situation. Measured data is used for historical or future trend analysis. Based on the data and/or analysis, automated decisions can be made and provisioned to the infrastructure components utilising standard interfaces and protocols. 

As the number of nodes, for example, devices, sensors, network equipment, in a network grows, automation becomes the only feasible way to cope with the amount of effort needed for provisioning, configuring, authenticating and authorising of the devices. Per customer and node, configuration must be created automatically based on the service provider databases. Access decisions and connection parameters for nodes need to be formed automatically based on the operator customer and network monitoring data. Customer service and customer configuration must be made so easy that the customers self-serve themselves without needing operator support resources.

Zooming Factory

By combining these three approaches, the objective for service providers is to do for the Internet service production the same that has already been done by automation in the factories -- automate as much of the actual production as possible, monitor and measure to gather data and make informed, even automated decisions based on the data.

Open, measured and automated service infrastructure is the best way to prepare for the challenges of Internet of Things and Industrial Internet. It provides cost savings and efficiency improvements even with the current customers. Together with our partners, we here at Arch Red are willing to help you to start migrating and improving your service infrastructure toward this goal. The technologies and components for this are already available and the work can be started by automating selected parts of the infrastructure without the need for big infrastructure changes.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

There is no Free Wi-Fi, but there can be Sustainable Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi Zone

Today Engadget reported that Free WiFi provider admits to making up 90 percent of its revenues. The company, Gowex, runs networks in 85 cities around the world (according to company WWW pages) offices in Madrid, Paris, London, Buenos Aires and Shanghai. The company claimed that it had developed a sustainable business model for free Wi-Fi based on the idea that company makes its revenues from partnerships with local governments, carriers with Wi-Fi offloading and from premium fees (i.e. selling premium user accounts).

Some may view this as a proof that Gowex's business idea and model did not work, but I would not claim that without looking into if they managed to get any revenues at all. Running company badly and falsifying revenues and accounting are very different things from the actual business idea and model not working.  I actually think that those ideas from where Gowex planned to get revenues are valid ones and they seem to have made real roaming deals with roaming brokers such as iPass, Boingo etc. These revenues could then be used to subsidise the service costs of running WiFi networks or related services, but naturally the company should get more revenues from the service it provides than the costs of producing it. And that is actually why I do not believe Free Wi-Fi exists.

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank

The Free Wi-Fi is an illusion for consumers. Somebody always ends up with the bill. It may be the company, organisation or city providing or buying the Free Wi-Fi service out of hospitability. It may be an airport or a shopping mall deploying or buying a service for tracking customer movements or web surfing, but like many other free Internet services, Free Wi-Fi is not really free. You as a consumer may think that with Free Wi-Fi that you are still customer, but the reality is that the one providing and paying for Free Wi-Fi service, needs to get enough benefits and/or revenue from providing the free service to you and their benefit maybe the data about you.

Where Gowex was on a right is that providing Wi-Fi for free needs to be sustainable. The Wi-Fi network service needs to provide so much benefits for the one paying for it, that the payer is willing to cover the costs of running, maintaining and developing the network. Too often in many hospitability guest networks (hotel/conference Wi-Fi, company guest Wi-Fi) the deployed network may serve its users when it was first deployed, but the development of it (Internet bandwidth capacity, better radios) is neglected until enough users are complaining about it. In city-wide Wi-Fi networks similar kind of problems occur, when city-wide Wi-Fi is setup with development project money from government or EU without any plan how to cover the costs after the development project has ended.

Sustainable Wi-Fi networks should be planned so that they can be maintained and even developed with the revenues coming from organisations and companies benefitting from the network service, or from something measurable the network provides. There even exists a successful example of this kind of sustainable global Wi-Fi network concept -- eduroam (*).

In eduroam, universities, research institutions, government organisations and even cities have seen the benefits of joining their existing Wi-Fi networks via federated RADIUS authentication and providing this way a free Wi-Fi around the world for researchers, teachers and students. Every organisation deploys, maintains and develops their own network service with their own funding and shares it with the other eduroam organisations. There is no single vendor, service provider or organisation controlling anything. Instead, every vendor, service provider or organisation which is ready to fulfil the open requirements and standard interfaces is welcome to join or provide equipment or services to other eduroam organisations. There are not a lot of revenues or profits moved around, just normal network and authentication business for companies, but the benefits are clear for participants to justify the costs of basically running the Wi-Fi networks, which they are going to do anyway.

eduroam is real, sustainable Wi-Fi and I am hoping that we (Arch Red and Open System Consultants) may help in bringing its benefits also to wider audience in a very near future. eduroam itself still limits its use to universities and research organisations and networks and cannot unfortunately yet be used as a common global concept to provide sustainable Wi-Fi for all.

* eduroam is a registered trademark of TERENA. Arch Red and Open System Consultants are independent of TERENA".