Categorising IoT devices - endpoints, enablers and controllers

With each passing year, the Internet of Things becomes closer to mainstream reality.

According to Statista predictions, there will be 20 billion IoT connected devices in 2020, with a steep climb over the following years as the technology gets perfected and more uses are discovered.

With the rate of growth of diversity of connected devices, the challenge for mobile network operators is to understand the real implications for their networks. Operators need deeper insight into the nature and capabilities of the terminals, and this is what Device Map provides. Device Map is a joint offering between Afilias and the GSMA, leveraging DeviceAtlas from Afilias and the master list of TACs from the GSMA.

There are now over 30 device classifications in Device Map, providing granular visibility into traffic from diverse sources such as cameras, data collection terminals, wireless hotspots and many more.

The market problem

The challenge for operators is that many of the new classes of terminal have very different behaviours on the network compared with the traditional voice and data capable cellphone.

As a result, they need to be able to reliably segment the traffic to understand the patterns and trends of network usage.

Here are two examples of problems that operators need to be able to address:

  1. Capacity has to be reserved at a cell tower level for IoT devices. The operator wants to be able to measure IoT activity levels on a per-cell basis, to assess whether the capacity reservations are optimal. (Both under-reserving and over-reserving cause inefficiencies)
  2. Rate plan misuse. Since different data rate plans are provided for IoT vs consumer devices, the operator needs to be able to monitor whether the device in use is aligned with the plan.

The Device Map solution

Device Map now includes a set of properties to classify IoT devices. These supplement the previously existing ‘Primary Hardware Type’ which provides a granular description of the terminal.

Property Name Property Description Example
IoT Endpoint Sensor and/or actuator, with cellular connectivity Camera, Data Collection Terminal, Geo-location tracker
IoT Enabler Provides cellular connectivity to otherwise unconnected devices Embedded network module, modem
IoT Controller Data receiver and aggregator, command/control of remote and/or local IoT devices Digital home assistant

The benefits of the new properties include:

  • Simplified analysis and comparison of traffic types, to permit accurate capacity allocation in the network
  • Facilitates measurement of trends of IoT traffic, including levels of abuse of rate plans
  • Permits distinguishing between traffic which is 100% IoT (IoT Endpoints) and traffic which may represent a mix of IoT and non-IoT traffic (IoT Enablers)

Other uses

Where the operator needs to distinguish between consumer devices and M2M devices, the Primary Hardware Type can be used. This contains the classes below:

  • Bicycle Lock
  • Camera
  • Cellular Gateway
  • Data Collection Terminal
  • Desktop
  • Digital Home Assistant
  • Digital Signage Media Player
  • Electricity Meter
  • Electrical Socket Adaptor
  • Embedded Network Module
  • eReader
  • Fixed Wireless Phone
  • Games Console
  • Geolocation Tracker
  • Glasses
  • Media Player
  • Medical Transmitter
  • Meter Hub
  • Mobile Phone
  • Payment Terminal
  • Plug-in Modem
  • Projector
  • Refrigerator
  • Security Hub
  • Set Top Box
  • SIM Adaptor
  • Single-board Computer
  • SMS Controller
  • Tablet
  • TV
  • Vehicle Multimedia System
  • Vehicle Phone
  • Weighing Scale
  • Wireless Hotspot
  • Wristwatch

Items to note:

  1. Many IoT devices communicate via WiFi, hence where traffic is seen from a WiFi hotspot on the mobile network, this may represent a mix of IoT and non-IoT devices.
  2. Many IoT devices use an Embedded Network Module to obtain cellular connectivity, with a non-distinguishing TAC. Hence a high proportion of traffic from Embedded Network Modules is likely to represent IoT devices.

How to access the new IoT classifications:

If you are an existing subscriber to Device Map, contact to request the addition of the new properties into your download. This takes effect in the next download.

If you are not a subscriber to Device Map, but you have access to IMEI or TAC and would like to understand these devices, please contact us via our Device Map for Mobile Operators form.

Main Image By Timusu via Pixabay.