Why core network is a key criterion when choosing an IoT connectivity provider
In contrast to radio access network, elements of which can be seen, like cell towers, core network usually remains the invisible part of cellular communication systems. However, it plays the key role in connectivity since it is instrumental in performing the most essential and basic functions like traffic routing, authentication, authorization and billing. While it is not necessary to build your own core network to provide connectivity services, owning one is a major advantage for a connectivity provider, helping to address the specific demands of IoT deployments.
Who owns core networks and who uses them
A cellular network operator, also known as Mobile Network Operator (MNO), is a company that has built both a core network and radio access network and uses them to provide connectivity to its clients. Alongside Mobile Network Operators there are other providers that use MNO networks to offer cellular connectivity services, called Mobile Virtual Network Operators, MVNOs. Unlike MNOs, these providers usually focus on a certain segment of the market and provide a tailored connectivity offering, for example, for the automotive industry.
While virtual connectivity providers, as their name suggests, would typically use the infrastructure that is built by and belongs to other companies, the concept is more complex. There are several types of MVNOs, and they differ from one another by the share of infrastructure they own and, subsequently, the amount of services they can provide.
Some MVNOs choose a business model that doesn’t require owning any infrastructure, like Brand Resellers, and there are Light MVNOs that may own some of the core network elements, but they all are dependent on other operators’ core networks to a greater or a lesser extent. It may be less demanding in terms of investments, but implies limited control both technically and business-wise, affecting their value proposition.
Full MVNO core network
A Full MVNO is a provider that has a full-scale core network of its own and is only using other operators’ radio access networks to connect the devices to it. Building and maintaining a core network is not an easy task: it’s expensive, takes time, and requires a lot of expertise. But in terms of the services, it gives full MVNOs flexibility in their connectivity offering and ability to cater to the needs and specifics of certain use cases, which is essential for IoT deployments.
Technically, a core network is the central part of any cellular communication network. Apart from its main function – routing and transferring data traffic – core network is responsible for identification of a device and its location, its authentication and authorization to use certain services, keeping track of service usage and charging the client. It is the core network that allows to apply policies like traffic limits, throttling, roaming restrictions or services that only some of the devices can use.
But there is more to a core network than just carrying out all key functions, for a lot of critical connectivity features depend on its architecture, components, and network solutions being used. It may be even more important for IoT deployments, since oftentimes they have requirements that are different from regular mobile users, like device or use case specific demands.
The maximum acceptable latency may vary depending on the use case and the device type, but it’s important to understand that the actual level of latency would be defined by the core network architecture. Whenever an IoT device sends some data using a cellular connection, it goes through the mobile core network to its destination. If the device is roaming, the data it sends still would need to travel all the way to the connectivity provider’s data center before going to its receiving point. It can significantly increase latency, especially for global deployments, making the geographical architecture of a core network important.
Since the core network has a crucial role in routing traffic, it needs to be reliable and redundant. Core network operators implement certain architectures, components and protocols, distribute traffic to ensure high availability and avoid failures. However, the ability to deal with any type of issue and, more importantly, the speed of reaction would critically depend on whether the provider has immediate access to the network or has to address a partner that operates it. Having complete control over its core network allows a full MVNO to analyze its performance and make any necessary changes within the shortest possible time if need be.
With some IoT deployments, the core network must be ready for exponential growth of traffic or geographical expansion. Full MVNOs typically would have a distributed core network that connects IoT devices to a range of connectivity entities that are linked to central connectivity nodes like switches and hubs. It allows for quick expansion by adding more layers of devices over the existing layers, ensuring scalability for any IoT deployment.
Device Management and Visibility
A core network is also instrumental in managing devices, which is especially challenging when the devices fleet amounts to thousands of units. To make device management effective, it should provide visibility into network events, and it may become a problem if your connectivity provider doesn’t operate the core network. It’s easier with a full MVNO that can provide all information on data usage for every device instantly.
Most countries have already enacted legislation on data localization and data sovereignty, which may prohibit the data generated and gathered inside the country to leave its borders. It can be a serious challenge for global IoT deployments, because to comply with local regulations some elements of a core network should be available in every country the devices are deployed to. That would require either reaching an agreement with another operator that owns local infrastructure, or adding necessary elements to the connectivity providers’ core network, which is only possible if it’s a full MVNO.
From a business perspective, having a core network allows full MVNOs to be independent from infrastructure owners, become more flexible in their offerings and tailor them to every customer instead of using the one-size-fits-all approach. That may be especially valuable for IoT clients with their industry or device dependent use cases.
Webbing’s core network
Webbing is a full MVNO and has a fully redundant distributed core network infrastructure with data centers on every continent. It makes IoT deployments of any scale and any configuration feasible in the shortest possible time, no matter what geographically specific architecture they may require. It also ensures low latency since data doesn’t have to be transmitted across the world to a distant data center before heading further to its destination.
In combination with 600+ partnership agreements with mobile network operators all over the world our core network gives access to infrastructure in any region and eliminates the problem of regulatory compliance including all data localization and sovereignty requirements, whatever the scale of the project may be.
Webbing’s network also offers a centralized way to manage devices throughout their lifecycle. It allows for defining business rules that enable devices to change the carrier independently in case of location change or connectivity loss, and provides visibility to profile usage and network events. This helps manage connected devices in bulks, easily scale global IoT deployments and monitor data usage of each device.
Our distributed core network helps us tailor our connectivity offering not only based on how much the customer pays for a terabyte of data transmitted, or on the locations where IoT devices are deployed, but rather aiming at overall optimization of the total cost of operations for the client.