The O2 network outage in the UK in early July 2012 had several hidden implications beyond the frustrated customers whose phone calls and text messages were not getting through. Several newspapers also reported that during the outage ankle tags placed on criminals were disrupted, as were some of the bicycle rental stations in London.
This outage could have happened to any of the mobile network operators, and I have no doubt that O2 acted swiftly and responsibly to rectify the situation and then to compensate its customers after the event. The problem for the M2M industry is that outages like these raise serious questions about the suitability of consumer mobile networks for M2M services. Networks that are not designed and built for reliable M2M services risk damaging the industry and reducing confidence in M2M/Smart deployments.
The reality is that network reliability is more critical to M2M than it is to consumers. Impact on consumers will vary, from mildly inconvenient to missed opportunities as they could not be contacted. But in general any outage is much more serious for M2M.
There will be telematics applications that require little more than one text update per week, but for most, such as CCTV or digital signage, the data passed on the mobile network is being constantly used, analysed and distributed. To interested parties this data is more critical than voice or SMS, because it represents a cost saving or enhances a business process. Consider digital signage where advertisers have paid for their advertising, patient healthcare or criminal tag monitoring.
So what can be done to enhance the reliability of the mobile networks? To answer this question we need to look at how and where the mobile networks fail and what can be done to rectify this. Clearly the on-mast wireless radio infrastructure relies on a stable radio connection between where the SIM is placed and the antenna on the cell tower.
There can be a number of reasons why a SIM cannot connect to the mobile network, so Stream Communications defends against this by using network diversity (the ability to provide access to more than one wireless operator if required). This enables a SIM or device with multiple SIMs to connect to additional networks, ensuring continuity of wireless connectivity. This reduces the risk of failure by one network on one mast.
The other significant factor here is the off-mast infrastructure and network. This is the element that so often fails with the Tier 1 carriers, so represents a real opportunity to increase the reliability, throughput and especially the security for M2M connections. For this reason, Stream runs an enhanced private APN which is designed to improve reliability and security for M2M while increasing the speed and resilience of the private network.
Resilience is improved through the deployment of a very fault tolerant backbone network and Private APN infrastructure.
This can be achieved through deployment of an N+1 redundant architecture across multiple resilient points of presence (PoP), utilising diverse communication providers between PoP and wireless operator partners.
This enables communications to continue even during a major network outage such as O2’s in July, because backup facilities are capable of taking over when a major outage occurs. In Stream’s case, this is designed so that even with 75% of the network down service will be maintained and data transmitted.
All of this matters because to deliver its potential, M2M needs to rely on infrastructure that can overcome not only the technical question of ‘is it possible?’, but seriously consider the question ‘is it fit for purpose?’
With spectrum at a premium it is probably unrealistic for the industry to expect or fund a dedicated M2M network. What can be achieved is a more robust approach towards the delivery of M2M services to ensure that the industry avoids unwelcome headlines next time a major mobile network outage occurs.