Slowly, but surely, IoT adoption in Bangladesh is rising. Like any other fledgling IoT market, many of the early IoT adopters of the country are pondering whether to use public cellular networks for IoT connectivity or develop their own networks using alternative technology options, such as Fixed-line Networks, WiFi Mesh, Power Line Carriers (PLC), etc. Fortunately for us, this debate has already been settled by the mature IoT markets.

In the early days of IoT, the odds were in favor of private networks which seemed to offer the ultimate IoT connectivity solution in terms of cost and control. However, in practice, they seem to suffer a myriad of problems. Most of these problems are nothing to do with the technology option chosen but depend on a range of soft factors, such as limited economy of scale, poor scalability, lack of experience in designing and deploying the wireless networks, and lack of a business case for operations, optimization and continuous improvement of the deployed network.

In contrast, cellular IoT offers some distinct advantages. Such as:

  • Scalability: Today, cellular networks are providing ubiquitous communications across the country covering the entire geography and serving over 150 Million subscribers. The same infrastructure can be leveraged to support IoT, which makes it the perfect choice for large-scale IoT deployments such as Smart Grids and Smart Cities, where wide-area connectivity and mobility are required. There’s no need to build the IoT communications network upfront – it’s just plug-and-play!
  • Reliability: The public cellular networks are designed to operate with 99.99% or higher reliability by ensuring both path and equipment level redundancy across radio, core, and service layers. Such redundancies are not usually possible to ensure in a private IoT network due to the limited economy of scale. Moreover, the use of licensed spectrum in cellular IoT gives predicted performance and quality of service throughout the lifetime of the IoT devices with a guaranteed SLA.
  • Security: Security and data privacy is a major concern for IoT adoption. Public cellular networks not only have an exceptional track record of ensuring such but also they are legally obliged by the regulator to ensure network security and data privacy by following state-of-the-art global practices. There are a number of security options available in cellular networks, such as Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is an effective deterrent for common security attacks like DDoS; also, standard TLS/DTLS for end-to-end security can be provided on top of the on-air encryption aided by the SIM credentials. Furthermore, these days, most of the tier-1 mobile operators enforce the IoT device certification process before accepting a new genre of IoT device in the network, which also provides an extra layer of defense against IoT threats.
  • Life-cycle Management: When it comes to choosing IoT connectivity options, we often tend to forget the huge impact of life-cycle management, i.e. day to day operations and maintenance as well as continuous improvement (i.e. updates and upgrades) of the network. The public cellular networks are always-on revenue-generating machines, which are managed 24×7 by one or more dedicated operations centers ensuring proactive monitoring, management, and support. When the same network is used for IoT communications, it is covered by the same best-in-the-class service and support assurance framework, which is critical for a successful IoT deployment.
  • Future-Proofness: An important aspect of choosing the IoT connectivity option is whether the technology is future-proof or not. Cellular IoT technologies are being routinely standardized as part of 3GPP, such as LTE Cat-M and NB-IoT, which can be provisioned by a simple software upgrade of the existing 4G/LTE network. While NB-IoT is ideally suited for low bandwidth, infrequent communication from a relatively stationary device, LTE Cat-M suits higher bandwidth or mobile and roaming applications.
  • Cost: I’m sure, at this point, you might be wondering what would be the cost of maintaining such a network! Let me assure you, that’s the sweetest point of cellular IoT. In cellular IoT, there’s no cost of deployment, i.e. Zero CAPEX, and the OPEX is shared across many end-users and devices- bringing down the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to a great extent. For example, Grameenphone is offering as low as 20 MB IoT Packs costing around $5 a year, which is quite low compared to the other cost elements of Iorevenue-generating as device, application, and integration. Moreover, self-service tools like M2M Control Center can greatly optimize the money spent for IoT connectivity by offering real-time insights on data usage and connectivity status.

To summarize, cellular technologies have been designed for reliability, security, and scalability and provide a strong foundation for IoT connectivity with a unique combination of functionality and performance – all within a very attractive TCO model. This is well established by the fact that almost all global IoT deployments have long moved away from building, owning, and operating private communications networks in favor of more mature and cost-effective cellular IoT networks.

As far as Bangladesh is concerned, it’s a small country with flat geography and the highest population density in the world – making it very cellular-friendly. The coverage is ubiquitous and the cost of data is lowest compared to the rest of the world, which makes cellular IoT the de-facto technology option for IoT deployments.

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Reduan Hasan Khan, Ph.D.

Head of IoT at Grameenphone Ltd | Telenor Group

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