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In August 2011, the Dutch Ministry for Economic Affairs announced a public consultation on the proposed amendment to the Telephone Number and ISDN Services Plan. The amendment seeks to introduce new numbering ranges for M2M (machine to machine) communications. Specifically, the 097 number sequence has been recommended for M2M use, with other number ranges, such as the 06 sequence, reserved for M2M use in the future. While it’s uncertain how the amendment will fair, the proposal highlights a growing concern in the industry that with the expected billions of M2M devices eventually coming online, there simply will not be enough numbers to address them all.

This concern over numbers for M2M (specifically for MSISDN numbers that identify mobile stations on cellular networks) is relatively recent. Far more attention has been paid to the issue of IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses running out, and the resulting need for the global Internet to move to the IPv6 protocol to greatly expand the number of available addresses. Nevertheless, if we are to achieve the scale in the cellular-based Internet of Things that many predict – such as Ericsson’s 50 billion devices by 2020 aspiration – it will be necessary to provide identification capabilities beyond current cellular number ranges.
Fortunately, there are potential solutions available. At present, the most likely solutions are 1) open up new numbering ranges, 2) use service layer proxies, 3) use gateway proxies, or 4) use IMEI “transforms” to create pseudo-numbers for M2M. In the near term, the present quantity of numbers should suffice for the next 3 – 5 years, although this will vary by country and operator. One global operator with whom ABI Research has spoken claims it has numbers in the billions set aside for M2M, though this seems a distinct outlier compared with other operators.
Inevitably, as the numbering shortage issue starts to become more acute, all of the solutions mentioned above will be used; each presents advantages and disadvantages. ABI Research is confident that as the numbering issue starts to become increasingly top of mind in the industry, a permanent solution will be found.