Can Nokia WING Its Way to 5G Success?

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Jamie Moss | 1Q 2021 | IN-6010

5G Radio Access Network (RAN) deployments dominated the list of contract awards announced by infrastructure manufacturer Nokia during 2020. However, another product also featured strongly in recent months, and that’s Nokia’s Worldwide IoT Network Grid (WING) platform and managed service. WING is Nokia’s current evolution of what was once known as a Connectivity Management Platform (CMP), a fundamental network component for any wireless carrier offering Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. A CMP allows a carrier’s enterprise customers to have self-service management of their IoT SIM cards, through rate plan selection, connection activation, and real-time status and usage monitoring. CMPs are nothing new and have been an entry-level requirement for years, but what is newer is the reciprocal incorporation of a vendor’s partner carriers’ networks to provide international managed IoT connectivity for enterprise across the entire footprint of the platform’s usage.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.

 

Three Out of Two Ain't Bad

NEWS


5G Radio Access Network (RAN) deployments dominated the list of contract awards announced by infrastructure manufacturer Nokia during 2020. However, another product also featured strongly in recent months, and that’s Nokia’s Worldwide IoT Network Grid (WING) platform and managed service. WING is Nokia’s current evolution of what was once known as a Connectivity Management Platform (CMP), a fundamental network component for any wireless carrier offering Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. A CMP allows a carrier’s enterprise customers to have self-service management of their IoT SIM cards, through rate plan selection, connection activation, and real-time status and usage monitoring. CMPs are nothing new and have been an entry-level requirement for years, but what is newer is the reciprocal incorporation of a vendor’s partner carriers’ networks to provide international managed IoT connectivity for enterprise across the entire footprint of the platform’s usage.

Managed connectivity is a feature that WING offers and is a differentiator that is helping to keep the Nokia CMP platform relevant and an active generator of new business long after the industry has shifted its attention to the more valuable application development, and data and analytics platform businesses. On November 20, 2020, Nokia announced that WING had been chosen by the China Mobile IoT Company. That same month UScellular stated that its ConnectHQ platform, which launched in October 2020, had been augmented by WING, with WING being originally purchased by UScellular in July as a complement to the carrier’s selection of Nokia as its 5G millimeter wave network provider. Plus, in October 2020, Smart Communications, a wireless carrier in the Philippines, also announced it had chosen to use WING, becoming the third to sign up and/or launch services based on the Nokia managed service in just 2 months.

5G Synergies

IMPACT


Why this resurgence in interest in CMPs? Carriers are finding that they need more than just local connectivity management capabilities to offer an IoT service. They need to give their enterprise customers seamless international continuity of service availability and customer support. The Quality of Service (QoS) for Service Level Agreements (SLAs) needs to be guaranteed even on networks that the serving carrier does not own, and traditional roaming agreements are not good enough to accomplish this. CMP vendors therefore need to provide carriers with connectivity services. Nokia WING was launched in 2017, and was late to market for a CMP, so it had to offer something different from the start. It has, however, taken time for Nokia to build up its affiliation of carrier network partners; prior to the announcements of October and November 2020, Nokia had 11 carrier customers for WING, 7 of which were publicly announced and constituted the “WING global IoT core infrastructure.”

Why the resurgence in interest in WING? The answer may rest in WING’s expansion to include 5G IoT capabilities earlier in 2020. Specifically, the Control Plane (CP) and User Plane (UP) functions were separated within WING’s cloud-based Core Network (CN), allowing IoT signaling traffic and IoT data traffic to be scaled independently. Greater CP capacity can be provided for IoT deployments where the number of cellular connections is of a massive scale, yet where relatively low amounts of actual data are communicated, such as with sensor-based networks. Similarly, UP functions designed for latency-dependent IoT applications can be located close to the RAN to transport greater amounts of IoT data quickly, such as with Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) applications. In each case, it does so more cost effectively, both for an enterprise in terms of connectivity pricing, and for a carrier in terms of network resources, allowing the IoT traffic load to be balanced to where it is needed most.

Carriers the world over are focused on their 5G rollout strategies, calculating when and where to provide coverage to retain their competitiveness and to assess the market potential. Consequently, it is mutually beneficial to the salability Nokia’s products and services for its supplemental offerings to be upgraded to support 5G too, with Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) being one of the biggest innovations for 5G core networks. The signing of 5G RAN contracts segues nicely into the licensing of managed IoT services like WING, as in the case of UScellular. The 5G-readiness of WING provides on-demand managed services that are natively designed to boost the utility and value of a 5G RAN, enhancing its value proposition for prospective carrier customers. The hosted nature of WING keeps the routing of IoT-specific data separate from consumer enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) traffic and gives carriers access to 5G-specific IoT features without having to deploy them in their own core networks.

Innovate to Accumulate

RECOMMENDATIONS


Connectivity management is a mainstay of the IoT and will always be vital, yet it needs to be the subject of innovation for individual CMP vendors and their offerings to stay relevant. Historically, carriers would not frequently swap out their platform suppliers because doing so incurred high costs and lengthy reintegration timelines. Nevertheless, the licensed pay-as-you-grow pricing model that CMP vendors always fostered to encourage take up has for years compelled carriers to employ multiple platforms—for optimum interoperability with other carriers, for example. The IoT market is pragmatic and the domain of IoT platforms is one that is modular and, therefore, necessarily increasingly cloud-based, leading inevitably to today’s fully managed CMP systems that are specifically designed for their speed of deployment, the ease of adding and subtracting functionality through microservices, and the simplicity of usage by carriers and their enterprise customers.

A host of new entrant vendors have emerged that incumbents find they must compete with, and managed connectivity services through a hosted CN that ties together numerous carriers’ RANs is one way to do so. It can be difficult, however, because network infrastructure manufacturers do not want to be seen to be competing with carriers and so cannot offer services to enterprises directly. They can instead facilitate effective carrier collaboration through network interoperability and a common virtualized IoT core, so should other CMP vendors seek to do the same? Ericsson and Cisco have more carrier customers for their respective CMPs than Nokia and so may not feel the need to. Ericsson has certainly explored the idea internally, while Cisco has vehemently decided against it. Also, in November 2020, Tele2 upgraded its 2CONTROL enterprise connectivity management platform by extending its long-term relationship with Cisco, while also being a customer of WING.

The IoT is a market of core competencies where expanding into adjacent fields is best accomplished through strategic partnerships or acquisitions. It may be that the best thing for traditional infrastructure manufactures and CMP vendors to do is to keep a close eye on the crop of agile new CMP entrants to scout for innovative IP and business models to bring in-house, just as Cisco did with Jasper Wireless in 2016 and, in more recent times, as Deutsche Telekom did by investing in IoT MVNO and proprietary CMP operator 1NCE. This may even be the desired exit strategy for some. In the meantime, Nokia is continuing to expand its WING customer base, with support for 5G-specific core network features acting as a meaningful driver, a development strategy echoed by new entrant CMP vendors. 5G remains slow to build its IoT business case, but 5G RANs for consumer services will nevertheless exist, so if WING and platforms like it can add dedicated IoT benefits without requiring further capital investment from carriers, then so much the better for the 5G market at large.

 

Services