Shared MNC for M2M

Startdatum: Februari 2013
Einddatum: Mei 2013
Klant: Ministry of Economic Affairs

An important open question regarding regulation for M2M services is the lock-in that the current IMSI numbering scheme creates. The inability to switch between network operators is an important obstacle for large-scale M2M applications, in particular those are supposed to work without being serviced very often.

In the Netherlands the challenges of large-scale M2M applications using mobile networks have also been recognized. Stratix has investigated a specific solution for the issue of switching between operators for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

This solution is to use operator-independent IMSI numbers for large-scale M2M applications, based on a shared Mobile Network Code. This allows M2M operators to negotiate contracts for capacity on the commercial networks using a sub IMSI-range of this shared MNC, providing flexibility without replacing SIM cards.

Using a shared MNC for M2M

In order to allow users to choose mobile networks and providers separately from client devices (like phones), SIM-cards (Subscriber Identity Modules, or SIMs) are used. Switching between providers is done by replacing the old SIM with the one provided by the new network provider.

However, in the case of machine-to-machine communication (M2M) switching between network providers is more problematic: M2M application are often harder to access, for example in the case of sensors 'in the field', underground, or behind closed doors, making a SIM-swap more difficult. Also, the actual SIM might not consist of a card, but be soldiered on a printed circuit board inside the machine.

This inability to switch between mobile network providers is a problem for M2M operators, especially if applications are meant to work independently for a period of time longer than the contract with the mobile provider. For example, automated energy meters in homes are supposed to be operational for at least 15 years without intervention by a mechanic.

A solution is to assign a Mobile Network Code (MNC) to a large scale M2M operator. This gives them control over network choice and allows “wholesale access” through a roaming/MVNO model. However, the number of available MNCs is limited, in the case of 2-digit MNC’s there are just 100 MNC’s possible, with a number of the MNC’s already in use by the MNO’s and MVNO’s.

A proposal in the Netherlands is to assign an MNC for M2M-applications that can be shared by various M2M operators. Each M2M operators will be allowed to use a sub IMSI-range of this shared MNC to identify their devices and to buy access to the mobile networks of one of the commercial network providers. This shared MNC can be implemented in the form of a 'proxy-HLR' which takes all requests for the MNC as if it were a ‘regular’ MVNO, and then forwards the requests depending on the sub range involved to the user of that sub range.

In this way the users of the shared MNC can act in a similar way as an MVNO, allowing them to operate their own core, and to negotiate contracts and switch network providers without swapping SIM-cards.

Stratix published a report on the concept of shared MNC’s that can be downloaded on the website of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.  

A presentation by Stratix on this subject can be found here.

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