Feb 8, 2015

IoT Roaming

The mobile industry and users of its services are very familiar with the concept of roaming. Roaming allows users to access mobile services outside their home-operator’s footprint. Most users are familiar with roaming in the context of foreign travel. Roaming also occurs when users cannot access their service provider network at home and need to ‘roam’ onto other, local service-provider networks.

M2M service providers and IoT technology developers are now beginning to think about new service scenarios where ‘foreign’ devices enter a local operating environment; I have been using the term ‘IoT roaming’ to describe this situation. There are several reasons why IoT roaming is important, and different compared to traditional ‘roaming’. This is because IoT applications need the ability to recognize and inter-operate with roaming devices. There are knock-on implications for service provider business models and the platform capabilities needed to support IoT applications.


Consider a scenario where a municipality has implemented a suite of smart-city services. These may involve relatively static connected devices (e.g. self-reporting garbage bins or car-parking spaces) and dynamic-device applications (e.g. traffic management and tracking of public transport vehicles).

As illustrated below, these applications operate via separate connectivity platforms (e.g. run by two different mobile operators or one mobile- and one fixed-network operator) that cover the municipality’s footprint. Vehicles, connected devices and sensors from a neighbouring city now ‘roam’ into the municipality.



The question then arises as to how these connected things can become an active part of the smart city applications. One fundamental requirement is for a discovery process that allows roaming devices and applications to recognize one another and to trigger an action that will allow them to inter-operate. Other related requirements apply to resource management for service-quality, activity tracking for charging and billing as well as policy controls related to data privacy and system security.

The smart city scenario is not the only application area where IoT roaming manifests itself. Within the connected home, several industry alliances have emerged to address the technical challenge of allowing devices to enter the home environment and interoperate seamlessly. Qualcomm has contributed to the launch of the AllSeen Alliance. Intel is also active through the Open Interconnect Consortium as well as a second alliance with ABB and Bosch. Meanwhile, Google has launched its Thread Group initiative focusing on low- and battery-powered devices. Amongst standards bodies, oneM2M recently published its horizontal-platform specifications which include features to support device discovery.

Beyond the conceptual consequences of IoT roaming, existing service providers and platform providers are beginning to work on practical solutions. For example, IoT roaming will involve multiple local-area bearer technologies; existing connectivity-management and application-enablement platforms will need to serve a broader class of wide- and local-area connected devices.

IoT roaming will also have an impact on traditional, silo-applications and platforms forcing interoperability requirements onto the platform development road map. These factors are all set to change the monolithic structures of existing M2M and nascent IoT service provider businesses.

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