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14 September 2018

Huawei and China Mobile claim 300mn subs for IoT platform

Huawei and China Mobile have announced the expansion of the Connectivity Enablement Platform (CEP), opening it up to other MNOs after a year-long development and deployment cycle. China Mobile, the largest MNO in the world, claims that the CEP has over 300mn IoT connections, up 100mn in the past year, with 50,000 enterprise IoT customers.

That’s quite the benchmark, and a big win for Huawei – whose OceanConnect portfolio is powering the CEP. Strangely, the CEP is sometimes called the CM IoT Platform, so watch out for that, but China Mobile says it has consolidated 31 provincial systems into the CEP.

Huawei says this has reduced time-to-market by 5-7%, as well as providing savings for enterprise users from only having to deal with one system. Improved agility and general savings from cloud services are also claimed. The CEP provides the ability to centrally manage deployed devices, which should ease some headaches for the enterprises that choose to use it for their deployments.

For growth, China Mobile is aiming to hit 595mn IoT connections in 2020, and to this end has launched China Mobile Information Technology Company, as a unified wing to provide IoT services. If the 100mn additions in the past year is true, then China Mobile is expecting to add 150mn per year in 2019 and 2020.

The MNO said, in January 2017, that it would be using Ericsson to power an IoT platform. In June 2018, Ericsson and China Mobile announced a cooperation agreement concerning Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform (DCP), which is used by 30 MNOs globally and serves 3,000 customers – providing them with self-management tools for the devices and the connectivity purchasing and payment capabilities.

Now, it seems that China Mobile is using Huawei for its domestic business, and then relying on Ericsson for its international trade. That’s probably a sage decision, given Huawei’s continued trouble on the global stage, where it is subject to a number of restrictions. Ericsson points to its cooperation with the Bridge Alliance and the Global M2M Association (GMA) as major advantages for its DCP.

Ericsson doesn’t discuss device numbers for its DCP, but it seems likely that China Mobile’s CEP might already outsize it.  As the largest global MNO, state-owned China Mobile will have good traction leveraging its existing business customer footprint.

Xu Haiyong, general manager of China Mobile’s IT division, commented: “The CM IoT operation platform jointly developed by Huawei provides a new engine for China Mobile’s digital transformation. We will work together with IoT ecosystem partners to create a new, smart, and interconnected life.”

These connectivity management platforms are very important for IoT users. They allow you to connect a device with a SIM card to your chosen MNO, which then ensures that this device will be able to roam across global networks, thanks to the roaming agreements signed by the MNOs and MVNOs. Some of these platforms include selling the SIMs themselves, but broadly, they allow the customer to connect and pay for their connectivity, with some additional features like the ability to change data plans, services, or network preferences.

Crucially, the platforms are only responsible for these features. They do not concern themselves with the applications that these devices are involved in. They are solely focused on ensuring that the SIM-powered device can connect to a network and send its data packets or make a voice call.

To this end, the three major mobile infrastructure providers have shown great interest in offering these platforms to their MNO customers. As seen above, Huawei and Ericsson have their OceanConnect and DCP suites, and Nokia has its WING – Worldwide IoT Network Grid as a Service.

There are rivals here though, chief of which is Cisco’s Jasper, which now has some 90mn connected devices in its platform. At MWC, it said that it was planning on adding 100mn NB-IoT (now called LTE Cat-NB, remember) by 2020. Cisco has some serious weight to throw around in this market, but smaller upstarts are also hoping to carve out some space too – including Aeris, and Kore, which has just acquired Wyless. Don’t forget that chip-maker ARM has just moved into this market too, after buying Stream Technologies.

But while the smaller companies might be forced to find a niche and stick with it, the connectivity platform offerings from the infrastructure providers look set to become pretty core parts of their services and equipment portfolios. It’s not clear if any has a desire to launch some form of war here, as that could quickly get bloody as MNOs would be forced to pick sides, and many enjoy the ability to purchase from multiple providers.

Should that come to pass, the ‘independent’ platform providers could come into a windfall, but in the meantime, we expect there to be some pretty fierce competition behind the scenes, as each platform provider tries to reach the scale at which they can’t be sidelined by a competitor. For the mobile infrastructure vendors, being able to offer such a system as part of an existing service agreement is a pretty sweet deal though.

In a post on Light Reading, Huawei’s President of Software Business, Shi Yaohong, said that the IoT is an opportunity for CSPs to capture new services and revenue, to the tune of 15bn new connections by 2020, and $2tn in overall revenue. In China, Huawei thinks IoT connections will reach 8bn by 2020, with an estimated 1.08bn of these connecting over licensed cellular networks.