NetNumber: Signaling control must adapt to IoT age

NetNumber: Carriers and signaling control for IoT

As carriers increasingly look to handle more IoT connectivity for customers, they’ll need to rethink their approach to signaling control, as Doug Ranelli of NetNumber tells Internet of Business. 

The signaling control functions used behind the scenes by telecoms service providers are not something that most smartphone users will have ever considered – but they are vital to our day-to-day experience of making voice calls, sending messages and using apps.

Doug Ranelli, founder and chief strategy officer, NetNumber

At Lowell, Massachusetts-based NetNumber, a company that provides signaling control functions to many carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, BT, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, founder and chief strategy officer Doug Ranalli has a nifty way of explaining the technology’s role. 

As users, he says, we’re all familiar with the data and voice network. We turn on our phones, the phone connects to the network, and in the upper left corner of the screen, we see signal bars and a network designate, such as 4G. Says Ranalli: “Everyone knows what that means. If they’ve lots of bars and are on 4G, they can be pretty sure of a great service.”

But behind the scenes, he continues, there’s a whole other network that controls a user’s access to voice and data services, keeps track of their activity, enables them to roam between networks and ensures they are billed correctly. It’s that separate network that is provided by signaling control.

Read more: 5G will drive IoT adoption, Ericsson claims

Less cost, less complexity

Within signaling control, there are some 20 discrete, standardized functions – and most carriers have tended in the past to buy separate software on a piecemeal basis in order to support each function.

This, according to Ranalli, is where NetNumber stands out: its Titan product supports all 20 functions in a single technology deployment. He claims that makes it a less costly proposition for carriers and a less complex one to deploy and support, and that this is going to be increasingly important as carriers increasingly provide customers with the connectivity they need to run sensors, devices and machines in the IoT.

“A big problem that carriers face with IoT is that they’re dealing with a large number of endpoints that each earn them very little money. So they’ve got to figure out how to dramatically squeeze the cost per device of signaling control,” says Ranalli.

Right now, carriers’ signaling control networks are based on human subscribers paying a carrier, on average, $ 40 per month for services. Now, that business model looks set to be overturned by the need to support signaling control for many more non-human IoT devices, paying $ 1 per month, possibly less.

Read more: Nokia launches fifth Open Innovation Challenge with focus on IoT

Capacity overwhelmed

There’s another problem on the horizon, too: because there are relatively few IoT sensors and meters connecting to carrier networks right now, most carriers are supporting early deployments using excess capacity on their existing signaling networks. “But as the IoT grows, and there’ll suddenly be ten times more IoT devices than there are human subscribers, then you’re going to see the IoT overwhelm the existing signaling network – and that’s where NetNumber comes in.”

Ranalli claims, that because NetNumber’s Titan consolidates signaling control functions in a single product, it’s less costly to deploy and less complex to support than rival products. In turn, that means that carriers may start to consider deploying new signaling networks specifically for IoT devices, running alongside those they already run for human subscribers.

In part, they’ll be motivated to do so as the number of IoT devices prove too much for existing signaling networks, as discussed. At the same time, they’ll be starting to understand better the very different demands that these devices place on signaling control technology, compared to phones.

Most smartphones, after all, tend to be low users of signaling control and big users of data services. In other words, once they’re switched on and connected, and unless they roam between different networks frequently, they’re simply not making as many demands of the signaling network as they do of the data network.

By contrast, IoT devices are low users of data and big users of signaling control, as Ranalli points out. “IoT devices will be checking in with the network all the time, sending small status updates constantly – and all those status updates tend to be processed over the signaling control network.”

Right now, the prospect of implementing a new signaling network for IoT is not a prospect many carriers have much time or inclination to consider, he concedes, but awareness is growing that excess capacity on existing networks can’t take the strain forever. By next year, some carriers will start to give the matter some serious thought, he reckons, and by 2020, many others will be keen to jump on board.

“In the meantime, that’s where we at NetNumber are setting our direction. We’re making sure we have all the technology ready for carriers as soon as they decide to that route,” he concludes.

Read more: Ericsson, Microsoft team up to offer cellular IoT services

The post NetNumber: Signaling control must adapt to IoT age appeared first on Internet of Business.

Internet of Business

How should large organizations adapt to a changing world?

We are on the verge of one of the most exciting decades in economic history. The Internet of Things (IoT) will change industries, business models, and value chains. It will usher in new winners and cast old heroes down . Speed will be important, but will size matter? And it’s not only the IoT that is changing the world. Demography is changing the balance of power internationally and the structure of consumer demand nationally. Our consumers in the advanced countries are getting older. Do we still have the right products for them? Values are also shifting, and present another challenge. Today’s large companies are often managed by baby boomers. Do they understand the expectations of Generation Y, and what they will mean for organization and collaboration?

Especially for large companies, these are exciting questions. Clearly, transformation is needed. But unfortunately, there are no blueprints for us to follow. We will have to find our own way, sometimes by trial and error.

How can we become agile? What does becoming agile involve? If we look at successful companies, especially those in the digital world, and if we understand how the start-ups that attract masses of talented young people work, we can get an idea of the direction our future organization must take. In particular, I can see five principles we need to follow when reorganizing large companies to make them fit for this new environment.

First, our businesses have to be based on a strong purpose. What really motivates people are solutions which have a concrete, positive impact on their lives. Bosch’s slogan ‘Invented for life’ can be translated into a substantial number of very concrete purposes, each of which give our daily work a lot of sense. It is especially important for the younger generation to understand the true sense of what they do. By this, they don’t mean increasing profit and market share − though this can by all means result from excellent solutions – but meaningfulness and improving people’s lives worldwide.

Second, design thinking teaches us that the best solutions are generated by very diverse teams . Diverse not only in terms of gender, nationality, and age, but in particular also in terms of functional background and education. So creating permanent cross-functional teams could well be an important way of creating a continuous flow of innovative solutions, with the user as the constant ‘center of gravity.’ We are still very often organized in functional silos, where engineers sit together with engineers, marketeers with marketeers, controllers with controllers, and so on. The result can be that beautiful marketing ideas are impractical, sophisticated technology solutions are unwanted, or excellent ideas are far too expensive. Sometimes, we notice this too late. Why? Because we don’t focus our activities on the potential users of our solutions right from the start. Cross-functional organizational set-ups change this. In such a set-up, functional excellence is not the most important issue. All that matters is solutions.

That’s not to say we don’t need functional excellence. Of course we do. But this needs to be organized in such a way that dedicated people are constantly on the lookout for state-of-the-art knowledge – both within the company and in the outside world − and transfer this continuously to the operating units.

Especially in a cross-functional organization, team-building is a very critical process. The individual members’ professional DNA – background and education – sometimes means that their characters are very different. Interdisciplinary teams with different languages, expertise, goals, viewpoints, and mindsets, are also the source of potential culture clashes. Diversity leads to better solutions, but forming effective, long-term teams is a challenging task.

Third, we have to think about hierarchy. Large companies sometimes have six or more hierarchical levels. But what is their task in future? How much hierarchy do we really need? I strongly believe less could be more. But this also requires a new understanding of leadership.

This brings me to my fourth point. The leaders of tomorrow have to put things in context, be good strategists, enjoy coaching and communicating, and know exactly how they can use their own specific expertise to help their teams fulfill their tasks. They have to give their people leeway and empower them. Control has to be minimized, and reserved for emergencies, non-performing staff, or new associates. If we understand leadership like this, we will need fewer leaders, though possibly also better ones as well.

Finally, and this brings me to my fifth principle, it is important to change the way we communicate. Most of the things top executives talk about today are not confidential. We should openly inform our associates in real time about the things that are important to us. We should share both success stories and failures, be honest when we don’t have a solution, and make it clear to everybody what they can contribute. Communication like this is no longer something to be cascaded, but has to be fast and authentic, and to flow directly to everybody. Communication is one of the big motivators . It can give associates the good feeling that they are acting as entrepreneurs, with a proper understanding of strategies, pain points, open questions, and what they can contribute.

Learn more about how the IoT drives digital transformation

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