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M2M roaming: Put a SIM card in a machine, simple; drive it across the border, difficult

The mobile industry understands how to deal with roaming users, but what about roaming M2M-enabled machines?

Depending on who you follow, the market for M2M will be huge, vast, enormous or completely ubiquitous in a few short years’ time. Only a few companies have begun to think through issues such as roaming.

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As Ford rolls out its in-car technology, SYNC, across Asia, issues arise which are simply not applicable to markets such as America. Whether the owner drives his Ford car across a border himself, or whether Ford, for instance, ships cars to Europe, an unexpected problem arises.

“Terminal roaming is an issue,” says Shai Ophir, CTO of roaming specialist Starhome. “The issue was seen as something for future consideration within the GSMA but has become an immediate focus for research,” says Ophir. “A car, for instance, that is built in Asia and shipped to France is in a state of permanent roaming. The home and visited networks need to track and account for the SIM in the car. This is not just so that settlement can take place between carriers but also so that the visited network can support the fulfillment of maintenance contract promises to customers.”

There are several scenarios and solutions, according to Ophir. The first and simplest is that the visited network becomes the permanent owner of the SIM card and the responsibilities and services are then supplied locally. The second is that a mechanism is put in place that allows for dynamic downloading of a SIM card in the country where the machine will live. This is not a popular option among telcos.

“Terminal tracking in itself is not too complicated,” says Ophir, “machines behave in predictable ways, unlike humans, so finding patterns and monitoring them is quite simple, as is detecting problems when data is transmitted in inconsistent ways – too much, too little, at strange times and so on.”

Whether or not a machine is roaming permanently or whether the owners of the Ford are on a driving holiday through several countries in Europe, the roaming issues are the same in order of importance, possibly more so, than roaming for mere humans. There may be engine trouble to report, or a power failure which might require swapping networks, but the connection, once made, needs to be maintained.

The issue also arises at a local level, and MVNOs that address the car or medical market will emerge and manage a wholesale business for machine based SIM cards. “We are at an early stage and working with the GSMA to address these issues,” says Ophir. “The impact of moving a heart patient to another jurisdiction, for instance, needs to be managed perfectly and for these scenarios we see lists of critical devices being transferred between jurisdictions in the short term. What we also see is that policy management is the critical factor in managing devices and this will be an important step in automating this process. Defining those rules will be vital.”

With the small margins and the M2M business relying on scale, managing a whole new ecosystem is possibly not what telcos need right now. While they will undoubtedly make money on connecting, provisioning, billing and supporting the end-device ecosystem, there is another, complex, wholesale, roaming business to manage, monitor and control.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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