The GSM Association released new guidelines to help mobile operators handle the anticipated increase in network traffic from Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The Internet of Things (IoT)—the network of devices, services, applications, services and everyday objects connected to the Internet and to each other—will become pervasive by 2025, according to Pew Research. Today, some 1.9 billion devices are already connected to the Internet, and that number is set to reach 9 billion by 2018. The rapid growth of connectivity between devices is a huge challenge for mobile operators, who had a painful experience dealing with increased traffic brought about by the explosion in smartphone use.

Inefficient, insecure, defective IoT devices

To prepare for IoT, new guidelines were released by the GSM Association (GSMA), an industry group representing major telecommunications carriers worldwide—including AT&T, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, KT, Orange, NTT Docomo, Tata Teleservices, Telefonica, Telenor Connexion and VimpelCom.

According to GSMA, the primary goal behind the guidelines is to mitigate the risk caused by the mass deployment of inefficient, insecure or defective IoT devices that could lead to congestion, disruption, degradation and outages in mobile services. Power consumption of IoT devices could also suffer if they do not work well with carriers. Devices can overwhelm a network by sending too many signals at once, denying users from making calls or using the Internet.

"We want to make sure those devices don't become aggressive and overload the network with signalling traffic. Because if you have too many devices behaving too aggressively on the network you effectively end up with a distributed denial-of-service attack," Stephen Bryant, CTO at Telenor Conexion, which contributed to the GSMA document, told Infoworld.

Always-on, data encryption, efficient signalling

The guidelines recommend that developers of IoT devices:

  • Use an “always-on” connectivity instead of switching very frequently between activating/de-activating connections
  • Lessen the number of connections between the IoT device and the network
  • Randomize patterns for network requests
  • Aggregate data in chunks before compressing it and sending it out
  • Implement security measures to prevent unauthorized use of devices, including timely diagnostics and firmware updates, for both local and over-the-air functionalities
  • Use end-to-end data encryption to help thwart cyber attacks
  • Make devices capable of adjusting to varying network speeds and different mobile technologies such as 2G, 3G and LTE
  • Make devices capable of adjusting to failures to communicate to networks, noting that requests should not be tried indefinitely and timeout
  • Implement a “low-power” mode for the communication module of a device not only to save power but to reduce network signalling
  • Should not “ping-pong” between different communications access technologies (e.g. 3GPP, Wireless LAN, TD-SCDMA)
  • Mass-deployed IoT devices (at least 10,000 devices in single network) should implement randomized delays before switching to another access technology

The GSMA enjoins IoT service providers and device makers to reference the guidelines in the design, production and deployment of IoT devices.

“Mobile network resources are dimensioned assuming a ‘generalised’ device usage profile with a sensible balance between traffic and signalling. It is important that IoT devices using mobile networks adhere to some basic principles before they can be safely connected to mobile networks,” the GSMA states on its web site.

IoT and connectivity transforming healthcare

Jahangir Mohammed, Founder and CEO of Jasper Technologies, a backer of the GSMA guidelines, said in a Forbes article that even though IoT is surrounded by considerable hype, “ambitious players in the medical industry are embracing the business opportunities and human benefits of IoT” and consider it as “crucial in the advancement of medicine and quality of patient care.”

Today, sensors, wearables, mHealth apps, medical devices, and appliances connect to the Internet and other devices via mobile networks. Making IoT “things” and mobile networks play nice with each other could add to the gains made by IoT-enabled applications for healthcare. If connectivity is made more secure and efficient—as these guidelines (and follow-up efforts) recommend—then there’s more promise for the IoT movement to transform healthcare and improve outcomes.   

Jof Enriquez is a registered nurse, medical writer and healthcare journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @jofenriq.