Helping the IoT work across borders will be essential to its growth. Just as complications in mobile phone use during international travel are now largely a thing of the past, so must we prevent communication between devices from becoming a siloed affair: the IoT’s most important and productive uses include many which do not stop abruptly at national frontiers, and roaming agreements are required to help them achieve their potential.
Thankfully, there have been clear signs that this is happening, with multiple launches of LTE-M roaming announced throughout the second half of this year. In June 2019 for instance LTE-M roaming was realised between the United States, Mexico and several European countries, with an agreement between AT&T, KPN, Orange and Swisscom. Carolien Nijhuis, Director of IoT at KPN, commented on the agreement that “the introduction of LTE-M creates many new possibilities for our partners, customers and prospects, and LTE-M roaming has been one of the most requested features by our customers. We are very happy we’re now able to fulfil their needs and unlock their international IoT-potential.”
More recently, TELUS and AT&T announced the launch of LTE-M roaming between Canada and the United States in September 2019, bringing into being the first LTE-M footprint across North America for all IoT applications. Then the following month an agreement between AT&T and Vodafone brought NB-IoT roaming to enterprise customers operating between the US and five major European markets. For consumers, this new roaming capability is a significant step towards seamless connected travel, enhancing mobile applications which naturally benefit from the ability to cross borders like health wearables. For industry however the potential gains are more pivotal: for forward-looking North American businesses engaged in logistics, asset tracking, infrastructure monitoring, and numerous other cross-border enterprises, this is a crucial development.
“More and more of our enterprise customers are launching IoT applications across international boundaries, explains Chris Penrose, President for Advanced Mobility and Enterprise Solutions at AT&T. “Having access to the first North American footprint for LTE-M through these roaming agreements will help them simplify deployments, scale their IoT plans, and put them on the path to 5G. This is an important milestone toward a globalised IoT.” Having developed its machine-to-machine code to cover over 100 countries, TELUS hosts a coverage map of its LTE-M deployment across Canada, allowing AT&T’s US-based subscribers to check where they will be able to travel between the two countries while avoiding interruption to their IoT connectivity.
Cross-border Mobile IoT requires industry collaboration
There are naturally, however, challenges to address if the most is to be made of Mobile IoT roaming in these early stages of development. Sprint for instance have identified a lack of awareness of the simplified charging models which will help minimise customer friction, and have urged partnership on spreading the word on the benefits. KPN meanwhile point to inconsistent availability of specific LTE-M features across markets, and varying knowledge of these amongst testing teams – where this knowledge is assured, acceptance testing can be accomplished within a few days. AT&T add to these considerations a need for standard technical commands between devices, and ensuring SIMs are properly provisioned for testing.
As with any commercial proposition, successful deployment of Mobile IoT roaming also requires coordination of demand on both the customer and supply sides – and that means proactive engagement between prospective operator partners is needed to drive multi-country access forward. The GSMA’s role in this is clear: working to identify demand on the customer side, producing industry roadmaps to meeting that demand, and then helping to facilitate the commercial discussions which arise.
An essential part of the deployment process is convening the global industry events where those conversations take place. We were recently pleased to showcase an LTE-M roaming innovation by Canadian Tech accelerator L-SPARK, who are working with TELUS to enhance trust in smart city applications, at Innovation City at MWC19 Los Angeles.