Edge computing for IoT: different takes from Dell and Huawei
Edge computing has two main benefits for companies with connected assets. Firstly, it allows them to filter the large volumes of data generated by devices at the edge of the network, saving the time and cost of transmitting it to the data centre. Secondly, it enables them to make rapid decisions based on the locally processed data. In an IoT world, where connected assets are often located in remote areas or challenging locations, the flexibility edge computing enables is critical.
At MWC 2017, the most high-profile launches of edge computing products for IoT came from Dell and Huawei. Dell’s new 3000 series of edge gateways are customised for specific use cases in small spaces and harsh environments: 3001 for industrial automation and energy management (such as remote oil rigs), 3002 for transportation and logistics (like refrigerators on trucks) and 3003 for digital signage and retail.
All three 3000 series models share a common set of features such as the ability to operate in temperatures between -30°C to 70°C; Ethernet, USB, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE connectivity and 3G and 4G cellular options for certain countries. Each model, which will be available from $399 from early this summer, is customised for specific industry needs: 3001 provides RS-485/422/232 programmable serial ports; 3002 integrates CAN bus for land and marine protocols and ZigBee for mesh sensor networks and 3003 incorporates display port output for video and line in/line out for quality audio streaming.
As such Dell’s approach with the 3000 series is to target the requirements of specific verticals. Huawei approach is different: it’s Edge-Computing-IoT (EC-IoT) is pitched as an end-to-end solution, incorporating not only the edge computing gateway (AR500 series router), but also the terminal communications module, which provides connectivity to local sensors, and the Agile Controller. Unlike Dell’s 3000 series, EC-IoT is a horizontal play by design. The open APIs and eSDKs provided by the Agile Controller enable partners to integrate specific vertical applications. Huawei says that EC-IoT has already deployed for a wide range of use cases such as power, lighting, smart energy, smart manufacturing, engineering and vehicles.
Competing LPWAN technologies seek to differentiate
2017 will see a spate of deployments of the 3GPP-based LPWAN technologies NB-IoT and Cat-M1. At Mobile World Congress 2017, nine leading operator groups (AT&T, KDDI, KPN, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Telefónica, Telstra, Telus and Verizon) came out in support for Cat-M1. By contrast, the likes of Deutsche Telekom, KT Corp. and Vodafone are backing NB-IoT.
It’s unlikely to be a case of either Cat-M1 or NB-IoT. Over the course of time, some operators will deploy both 3GPP technologies, though it’s noteworthy that two of the nine Cat-M1 backers (KPN and Orange) have opted for the unlicensed LoRaWAN to cater for the type of low throughput applications served by NB-IoT.
A range of ongoing enhancements to the two 3GPP technologies and the leading unlicensed contenders, SIGFOX and LoRaWAN, will give both operators and enterprises food for thought as they decide which technology to adopt. At the show, AT&T, Ericsson and Qualcomm demonstrated VoLTE over Cat-M1, taking pains to emphasise that voice as well as basic internet connectivity is required for a growing range of IoT applications such as agriculture, logistics, medicine, mining, transport and others.
This was a shot across the bows of LoRaWAN nor SIGFOX, neither of which can support voice. But both LoRaWAN and SIGFOX backers also used the show to highlight that their respective technologies have native geolocation capabilities, while operators offering NB-IoT and Cat-M1 need to integrate GPS to offer similar capabilities (for outdoor areas).
SIGFOX demonstrated Spot’it, a GPS-free asset tracking service that uses radio signal strength and deep learning technologies to provide location information in outside and indoor environments. Semtech had announced LoRaWAN’s GPS-free geolocation capabilities in June of last year.
At Mobile World Congress, the key LoRaWAN announcement, from the LoRa Alliance, instead concerned roaming. This has been long been the preserve of mobile operators, although the fragmentation of spectrum used for LTE initially made for slow progress in the early days of 4G. The LoRa Alliance said that it had received widespread support from its membership of operators and software providers for both in-country roaming between overlapping networks to enhance capacity and extend battery life and cross-border roaming to address use cases like asset tracking.
5G’s IoT use cases explored
5G is being designed to support three core use cases: enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT (MTS) and mission critical communications (MCS). The common characteristics for massive IoT are a large number of devices typically emitting a low volume of non-delay sensitive data. Devices need to be low cost and have a long battery life. Typical use applications include asset management and smart metering. By contrast, MCS has strict requirements for throughput, availability and latency. Typical potential use cases include autonomous vehicles, industrial automation and remote patient monitoring.
At MWC 2017, 5G proponents had two main objectives. Firstly, to demonstrate the ongoing progress in developing the building blocks for 5G, such as 5G New Radio, millimetre wave and beam-steering. Secondly, to show some real-life examples of 5G use cases.
Telefónica, Ericsson and Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology KTH demonstrated the control of a driverless car, 70 kilometres away in Tarragona, via 5G. Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson and SK Telecom demonstrated VR control of a robot prototype by a scientist wearing clothing with embedded sensors and an Oculus headset. Using a combination of 5G, SDN an NFV to enable very low latency, there was tight synchronisation between the movement of the scientist and the robot. Intel talked up both MCS 5G use cases like public safety and MTS use cases such as environmental monitoring. Huawei positioned its C-V2X technology as an evolutionary path between 4G and 5G for the connected car and transport infrastructure.
Overall, the pitches at Mobile World Congress represented an ongoing exploration of what applications 5G might support in the future. That’s not the same as saying that 5G alone will enable, for instance, the autonomous car or indeed other applications that require low-latency and high levels of availability. It also does not signify that all of these applications will attract wide-scale adoption across consumers or businesses.
In reality, it will take several years for 5G to be rolled out. In the meantime, other technologies, such as LTE or, in the case of connected car, dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) may be the fall-back where 5G lacks coverage or may even been used in preference to 5G. For the time being, the potential MTS use cases for 5G look very similar to those enabled by NB-IoT and Cat-M1. This may not matter if the latter two technologies become a formal part of future 5G standards. 5G will also, at least in theory, lower the cost of MTS deployments through improved low-power requirements, greater usage of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum and (in the longer term) enhanced coverage. But for now, our takeaway from MWC 2017 was that 5G remains work in progress.
Chinese telecom equipment vendors will be significant stakeholders in the global IoT market
Huawei and ZTE are the preeminent Chinese telecom equipment vendors, each with a global customer base. While Huawei is, perhaps, better known for its efforts in the IoT sector, ZTE used its presence at MWC 17 to highlight its own extensive efforts across the IoT value chain.
In many respects, both Huawei and ZTE have taken similar, and very comprehensive, approaches to serving the IoT market. Each company’s offerings span from chipsets to modules to terminals and gateways, to cloud-based IoT platforms, to white label vertical solutions. All of this, of course, is underpinned by Huawei and ZTE’s core network infrastructure expertise. This end-to-end approach differs from essentially every other provider in the IoT space. For example, module vendors, such as Sierra Wireless or Telit Communications, are pushing up the value chain in offering IoT platforms and value-added services. But they don’t produce the chipsets, or core network equipment. Ericsson provides core network equipment, IoT platforms, and white label vertical solutions, but has divested of the chipset and module business. Not every company can, nor should, attempt to span the value chain. But IHS believes that the breadth of Huawei and ZTE’s activities across the value chain give these companies rare insight, and influence, on overall IoT market development.
ZTE’s AnyLink IoT platform was first developed for pan-African mobile operator MTN three years ago. Last year, ZTE branded the platform and now offers it commercially to other operators as well, including as one of Chinese mobile operator China Unicom’s two platforms (the other being Cisco Jasper’s Control Center). The “connection management platform” (CMP) segment of the IoT platform market is the oldest, and certainly most competitive, of the three major IoT platform segments assessed by IHS. (The other two being “application enablement platforms” (AEP) and “data exchange brokers” (DEB).) The two market leaders, in terms of cumulative connections under management, are Cisco Jasper and Ericsson. Both Cisco Jasper and Ericsson have made deep inroads among the global operator community. Nevertheless, the breadth of Huawei’s and ZTE’s relationships across the telecom ecosystem, and particularly in China and emerging market, does suggest that they will be formidable CMP competitors both in greenfield markets, and as existing CMP contracts come up for periodic renewal.
Both Huawei and ZTE have introduced white label vertical market solutions. In the case of Huawei, these center on Smart Home, Connected Car, Smart Metering, Smart Parking, and Safe City. In the case of ZTE, these include segments such as smart parking, connected street lights, smart homes, and smart metering. As an example of how ZTE brings its cross-value chain offerings to bear in its market proposition, the company typically bundles software and various types of hardware into solution bundles that it provides to mobile operator customers.
Finally, both Huawei and ZTE have aggressively targeted the low power, wide area (LPWA) market opportunity. Huawei is a progenitor of the current NB-IoT standard via its 2014 acquisition of Neul. Now, Huawei provides NB-IoT chipsets and has worked on trials and deployments of NB-IoT service capabilities with British mobile operator Vodafone and German mobile operator Deutsche Telekom. ZTE is, likewise, an NB-IoT chipset provider, and is working on NB-IoT trials in China with China Mobile currently. Moreover, ZTE is also a key proponent of LoRa, and LPWA technology used in unlicensed spectrum. ZTE has a subsidiary working directly on LoRa products and solutions, with partners deploying services. The company states that LoRa will be commercial in China in 2017.