The Internet of Things (IoT) and M2M have become hot topics in ICT industries touching most if not all vertical industries, with a wide variety of devices and objects to be connected, and large numbers of devices and connections forecasted by leading industry players and research firms. Analysys Mason forecasts the number of revenue-generating M2M connections to reach 3.4 billion worldwide in 2024, with APAC contributing 1.8 billion.
But despite the hot discussions and the encouraging outlook, there is a key concern that hasn’t gained enough attention yet: security.
When there are billions of devices connected to Internet, it will be challenging to ensure that the devices and the massive amounts of data generated and accessed by them are controlled only by authorized persons. Also, it will be important in the future to ensure those devices are functioning well.
One reason security isn’t at the forefront of the IoT discussion is because nowadays, IoT/M2M players only need to maintain certain service levels. For devices such as smart watches and handsets, occasional downtime may be inconvenient but won’t result in serious issues. Also, most M2M devices do not yet support critical functions. In connected cars, for example, M2M functions normally support informatics, in-car Wi-Fi, data/info collection and transmission to the back-end system for car status updates.
But in the future, with such a large amount of connected devices, even with high service level agreements (SLAs) or reliability, the number of malfunctioning devices could still become significant at certain points in time, and some of them may be mission-critical devices whose malfunction could lead to serious consequences - vehicle navigation or medical equipment, for example.
Consequently, security and reliability requirements are sure to increase as IoT/M2M solutions support more and more mission-critical devices and core functionalities. Moreover, it is possible that for these kinds of devices/solutions, regulators will require tests simulating real-world situations before the solutions go live (similar to crash tests in the car manufacturing industry), and providers may be required to implement fallback solutions that offer a Plan B when the systems break down.
This is where telcos come into their own. Security requirements such as secured transmission, safe data, user authentication and high reliability have been fused into telcos’ routine work for more than one hundred years. That security gene enables telcos to offer reliable IoT/M2M solutions, which could serve as a significant differentiator for their solutions to stand out from the rest of the pack.
However, to date, telcos still seem to be cautious about entering this new field. The majority are either sitting on the sidelines observing industry trends, or providing only simple connectivity or ad hoc services. The opportunities for telcos in IoT/M2M market are far bigger than this. Telcos should play a major role in IoT/M2M, not least because many of these services will be built on their networks.
- Develop a flexible and reliable platform
- Add their own products/services as well as external ones via ecosystem collaborations and partnerships
- Consolidate those offerings and provide an M2M one-stop shop.
During that process, operators need to bring together existing capabilities (e.g. cellular connectivity, sales and marketing, managed and hosting, customer services), add new ones (e.g. LPWA, application enablement platforms, IoT/M2M application development, partner solutions) and consolidate.
Sherrie Huang is Programme Head for Asia Pacific at Analysys Mason
This article first appeared in Telecom Asia 5G/IoT Insights July edition