Running a multi-country IoT network
So, you are thinking of running a multi country IoT network. These days, a lot of IoT deployments have the potential to span multiple countries. Just as the Internet has brought the world to a level playing field from a digital perspective, Smart products are now following from a physical perspective. As IoT is relatively new, companies who are early adopters may start their IoT campaign in their home country. However, they may soon find demand for their products in other countries. Their IoT strategy will have to expand to those countries as well in order to enable the product to function as intended in the new country.
If a company is expanding its footprint outside its home territory, what are the key points to consider?
A lot of the answers will be driven by the application. IoT no longer always means the traditional telematics style of communication—e.g. sending a packet of data every 24 hours to update a flow rate or energy usage. Today, IoT is driven by the devices themselves being smart and able to operate in real time over multiple protocols. For example, a vehicle fleet tracker which is also equipped with CCTV cameras sending video in real time, or a smart advertising billboard on the street which can track pollution levels and update advertising images on demand.
The key considerations when running a multi country, or indeed, global IoT network are:
Device network compatibility
Different countries have different cellular network standards. For example, the USA uses different frequencies to the UK on some networks, so it’s important to ensure phones support those frequencies or the service would be GPRS or GSM only. It is important to research the network the SIM will be roaming on and the device capability to ensure network compatibility.
It’s also important to pay attention to the “sunset” of networks in various countries. For example, Australia has already started shutting down its 2G networks, with other countries poised to follow suit and move away from the cost of maintaining a 2G/3G plus a LTE network. If you are building a device that has 2G capability only, eventually it may not work. This could also apply to 3G devices which don’t have a 4G/LTE capability. Conducting a bit of research (which could be as easy as talking to your SIM provider) to make sure that your device will be compatible with the intended networks in the target territories will ensure a long life for the device and no surprises and costs in the future.
The network path – private APN or DIA?
This is an important one where each option has pros and cons which need to be weighed up, whilst always keeping in mind the requirements of the application to make sure it can function as intended. Pangea has experience in providing both and can help advise the best path. Let’s start with the private APN.
Private APN: This generally means that a single physical SIM card will have a “communication plan” which will enable it to roam to a certain selection of networks. For example All UK networks, all EU networks, or globally. When the SIM needs to access the Internet or the corporate network, it will have its unique APN details input on the device (APN name, username and password). If the SIM is roaming in another country, the APN will generally consist of a VPN tunnel that starts at the roaming network, connects to the home network, then finally to the customer’s corporate network. If the customer has a private APN, it will mean that all data for their SIM card estate will come through that VPN interface on the customer’s network. It therefore has to be “collected” together, wherever in the world the SIM cards may be. For sensor based applications or non real time data this shouldn’t be an issue. However, if a customer wants to sell a global real time HD CCTV solution over a private APN, care must be taken to ensure available bandwidth and latency is within specification.
While we have these constraints about VPN tunnels and roaming mobile networks, the upside of the private APN is that a single APN can be specified on the device which can be rolled out globally. All data from all SIM enabled devices comes through a common interface and is treated and managed the same way.
DIA (Direct Internet Access): This means that a SIM going to multiple countries will be roaming from its home network. As an example, Vodafone, with its world and EU traveller tariffs, allows the SIM card to connect to networks in other countries for a fixed fee per day, using the home tariff plan. Often LTE access in other countries will also be available. Since the data from the SIM card doesn’t have to leave the country before it gets access to the Internet, latency is better and bandwidth is higher. These consumer or business tariffs can be translated into IoT type solutions. However, it is important to note that there is not a similar level of control to what would be possible in a private APN—whether it be the capability to authenticate SIM cards based on certain criteria, the assignment of static IP’s so the SIM can be tracked, or other clever options because of the private APN’s proximity to the customers own corporate network.
DIA is most important when LTE access is required for a single SIM card that may end up roaming in multiple countries, for example on a ship that requires high speed LTE access as it travels through ports and countries throughout the world.
Management and support
It would be possible of course to simply establish deals with local network operators in each country where the company’s device is being deployed. In some cases access to low business or IoT tariffs could be easier and bandwidth could be higher. However. it’s important to look beyond the initial rollout cost and the first few months of expenditure when designing an IoT strategy. Once the number of SIM cards and devices scale beyond a handful, things such as management platforms, API’s, and CDR feeds—which take care of the whole estate and deliver the information in a consistent fashion—can be as important as securing the lowest per-SIM price. And, at bill run time, who wouldn’t rather deal with a single invoice spanning an entire global SIM estate rather than multiple bills from multiple providers?
In summary there are multiple ways to approach a multi-country rollout, and there is no blanket approach which covers everything. Instead, any approach should be driven firstly by the application requirements. Once the requirements are known (which is a function of speed, security, management and cost) then it will be easier to determine how to plan your company’s rollout.
Get in touch with us at Pangea if you want to learn more about what it takes to successfully design and implement a multi-country IoT strategy.