The connection between MVNOs, IoT, 5G and smart cities

smart city 5G IoT MVNO
Image credit: Krunja / Shutterstock.com

How can mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) advance smart sustainable cities? ITU News spoke with Paul Berriman, group CTO of Hong Kong-based PCCW about how MVNOs can respond to the rapid increase in connected devices driven by the IoT and 5G, which will be at the very heart of smart cities.

Paul Berriman group CTO PCCW
Paul Berriman, group CTO, PCCW

What key role do MVNOs play in today’s ICT landscape?

Paul Berriman: The role of the MVNO is increasing. The traditional roles of allowing competitive service providers to ride on an mobile network operator (MNO) network at wholesale rates to provide smartphone voice and data services is rapidly changing towards connected devices.

We have already seen this when it comes to the partnerships between MVNOs that provide global roaming services and automotive vehicle manufacturers. These partnerships connect vehicle electronics and data systems all around the world to assist manufacturers track the performance and reliability of their vehicles.

How are MVNOs uniquely positioned to support the development of IoT and smart cities?

As we move towards 5G and network densification, where we can expect the number of small cell base stations and the fibers that connect them to explode by a factor of 10 at least, to enable the ubiquitous connectivity fabric of the smart city, we expect the number of IoT devices across many industry sectors to explode, as they are used everywhere for applications such as smart grids, optimized traffic, smart lights and connected vehicles.

We are looking at massive IoT growth to the extent that when combined with the massive reduction in revenue per device, it will become cumbersome for MNOs to provision, activate and support those devices.

Therefore, I envisage industry-specific MVNOs will emerge, like the automotive vehicle MVNO support mentioned above, to provision the “over the air” eSIM activations and bundle the connectivity costs into a much bigger industry solution.

If a customer is looking for an industry solution, perhaps in the security or automotive industry in which connecting many sensors or devices create that solution, then having someone integrate the connectivity provisioning and connectivity support costs into that much higher value overall solution means everyone can benefit – MNO, virtual network operators (VNO) and customer alike.

What are the top opportunities of MVNOs to expand into developing markets?

Of course, developing markets will still see emerging traditional handset MVNOs, but there is no doubt, especially where there are large industries such as agriculture and mining, provided the MNO infrastructure is present, for those MVNOs to provide industry solutions for all the IoT that can improve and benefit those industries to make them more efficient and profitable.

What would you like to see out of regulatory environments?

I think the regulators need to take a good look at what 5G is intended for. To me, it is not about competitive mobile network operators and smartphones. If we just wanted a faster smartphone, we could do that with more spectrum added through carrier aggregation, where additional blocks of spectrum are added to existing ones for more bandwidth and throughput, along with MIMO [which can provide better coverage, throughput and spectrum efficiency] and other technologies.

5G is for society and smart cities. It will require massive bandwidth, which could be way above the affordability and viability of the individual mobile operators after considering the 10x or more cell densification to create a true 5G fabric, by which I mean ubiquitous, ultra-reliable low latency connectivity for all devices, large and small, critical (e.g. emergency services or health care) or non-critical applications, anywhere.

Densification itself and the need for low latencies (for instance in vehicle-to-vehicle 5G communications) could drive the need for a single shared, perhaps wholesale network.

Regulators need to become enlightened towards what 5G really means.

The original version of this article first appeared on ITU News

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