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SMS – a key enabler for 5G IoT communication

Insights
Operators
Image showing SMS communication in 5G-based IoT

As more and more Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) launch 5G networks, SMS is rarely mentioned. SMS, however, remains an integral cog in Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT). In this blog post, we take a closer look at why SMS will continue to thrive in 5G.

The role of SMS in 5G IoT: 24 billion connected devices by 2025

You’ve heard it before – the world is more connected than ever before, not only for people but for machines and devices, too. It’s estimated that. 24 billion devices will be in use by 2025.

Staffan Wallin, Strategic Product Manager at Ericsson, underlines that even though SMS is a key enabler for both M2M communication and IoT, its importance is overlooked when it comes to the future of communication:

“The general public mainly knows SMS as the technology behind text messaging, but MNOs are well aware that it is also a channel used to deliver data to and from machines and devices. For the rollout of 5G, however, the headlines typically revolve around data throughput and short latency; and rarely about the continued role that SMS will play in the world of IoT. Yes, 5G will enable faster streaming in HD and the possibility to remotely control devices located in other countries – or even on the moon – in real-time. New use cases for autonomous vehicles, robotics, and other industry-specific applications are already popping up alongside 5G networks. Though often very advanced, many of these use cases will continue to rely on the humble SMS for some functions. SMS will of course also be needed for continued support of sensors, devices, and machines that don’t need all the speed and low latency that 5G brings to the table.”

Let’s look at some use cases for SMS in M2M and IoT communication.

The future of SMS and its importance for 5G IoT

Some devices or machines may benefit from being connected, but the hardware costs can often be so steep that it’s just not worth it. That’s where SMS comes into its own by dialing down the complexity and the cost - which can, in turn, open up new possibilities.

For use cases that need simple battery-powered sensors to provide measurement data like temperature, weight, humidity, etc., and only send and receive limited amounts of information, SMS is ideal. Communication like this, often seen in predictive maintenance use cases, for example, doesn’t require an active data session. Instead, using SMS technology to transfer these small amounts of data – piggybacking on the signaling system in mobile networks is very effective. This type of communication is also energy efficient, which means devices can enjoy a longer battery life.

More advanced battery-powered devices that use IP carriers to send and receive data can use SMS signals in the same way. The more advanced a device is, the more important it is to keep an eye on battery power. To extend battery life, devices can go into sleep mode when they’re not in use. But even in sleep mode: devices are still connected to the mobile network, listening for a mobile network signal.

Sending an SMS to a device can wake it up and trigger an IP session to send or receive more data. This type of device triggering is common in asset management or logistics management for end-to-end product tracking.

With gas and electric smart meters, for example, devices triggered by an SMS to send information can then go back to sleep directly afterward, allowing batteries to last several years.

Because SMS can function without a data connection in 5G, it’s ideal for many use cases. One example is devices that do not have data connectivity but still need to receive new software, firmware, or other data, to function at their best. Here, SMS is ideal for sending Over The Air (OTA) updates. OTA is also great for devices with data connectivity capability, and it’s something that many new and increasingly advanced connected devices will continue to need.

Francois Boshoff, VP & Head of Product Management for Operator at Sinch emphasizes that it should not be a question for MNOs of whether to keep supporting signaling based SMS use cases. Instead, he suggests that this is a given for MNOs to ensure maximum service coverage: “…today, in legacy networks, SMS service penetration is close to 100% and we expect the same in 5G. The open question is more related to the split between IP and signaling-based SMS.”

Transition to 5G calls for technology that supports future SMS

The rollout of 5G networks will supercharge the growth of connected devices with both old and new use cases relying on SMS to function. Staffan Wallin concludes:

“Through the years, SMS has proven its unparalleled reliability and reach. As the world of connected devices continues to grow, it’s sure to further prove its potential as a source of operator revenue. The IoT ecosystem and devices that use SMS connectivity will need to continue to function regardless of the generation of mobile network they’re on, so 5G will need to support SMS. In the long run, as operators begin to shut down older generation networks and shift traffic to newer networks, SMS functionality simply has to live on.”

For 5G networks, SMSF is the function that supports the transfer of SMS and is crucial for IoT and machine communication use cases. Take a look at our 5G SMSF and IP-SM Gateway to find out more about SMS solutions in 5G, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if you’re just curious to learn more!