AT&T Commercial Connectivity Services – Overview
AT&T Commercial Connectivity Services
I work for AT&T which is one of the largest mobility companies in the world. The term mobility means a cellular (3G/4G/LTE) connected device. It could be a phone, a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) in a data only device like a vehicle, laptop, or a machine to machine (M2M) device (e.g. ATMs). To make things a little more confusing. Most people now call M2M the Internet of Things (IoT). Keeping up with acronyms is half of my job.
The mobility network is a bit of a mystery. You turn on your device and it just works. But how can businesses or apps differentiate services between themselves and the public internet?
Using AT&T Commercial Connectivity Services
AT&T Commercial Connectivity services (CCS) can do that. Before I begin I need to define a few more terms. Each device has an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) burned into the hardware. Each SIM has a separate identifier that corresponds to an account. SIMs can be moved from one device to another. The next identifier is an access point name (APN). An APN is a logical identifier in the mobility network. Service providers use APNs to apply policies. By default devices share the internet APN. Devices in the internet APN get internet access. However; if you are in a custom APN then you have different options. One of those is IP addressing.
IP Addressing Options
- Public and private IP address support
- Static and dynamic IP address support
- Availability of specified IP address ranges
- Advanced firewall and security capabilities
Custom APNs can be mapped to multiprotocol label switched (MPLS) networks. This is the glue between a private wireline network (MPLS) and a private wireless network (3G/4G/LTE with a custom APN). By using CCS, devices and applications can have end to end private connectivity. How about an example? There are two scenarios with custom APNs (device level or application level)
Machine to Machine (device) scenario
Your local police and fire department have purchased a solution that allows them to track their vehicles. In the vehicles they also want to have data but it needs to secured through the firewall at city hall. In each vehicle there is a data only device (IMEI) with a SIM (account). Their service provider has configured a custom APN [LOCALPOLICEANDFIRE]. The custom APN uses private IP address space and dynamically assigns addresses from a specified range.
The device in the vehicles provide network address translation (NAT) for Wi-Fi connected devices. The fire department gets turn by turn directions for emergency calls via the data connection. The police use the Wi-Fi to query license plates and driver licenses. In addition the device also has a connection to the on-board diagnostics (OBDII) port. This allows the fleet management supervisor to determine when a vehicle needs to be pulled for maintenance. In addition all traffic runs over the custom APN. There is no direct internet access so this data never leaves a secure network.
Acme Co (app) scenario
Acme Co has a created a new app for their field sales team. They want the new app to use a server in their data center with a public IP address but prefer that it is accessed without traversing the internet. They ask AT&T to create the custom APN [ACMECONEWAPP]. Each phone (IMEI) with a SIM (account) has the app configured for the custom APN. To control access each device is set with a static IP address from the customers public IP address space. When the app is launched from the phone it uses the static IP to connect to the server in their data center. By using the custom APN it bypasses the internet. Acme Co can lock down access to the server to the static IP range.
These are two examples of how a custom APN could restrict a mobility device from using a Wi-Fi connection to access services. Commercial connectivity services is the AT&T branded name for custom APNs. Many IoT devices are low cost and low complexity but provide a specific task (vending machines, home power meters, solar powered weather stations, etc.) and could benefit from a custom APN.
UPDATE – 10/26/2015 I found an informative AT&T developer website that lists more custom APN information.
- AT&T Commercial Connectivity Service – Official Public Sites
- Original Link for AT&T Mobility Diagram
- Wikipedia – SIM
- Wikipedia – APN
- Wikipedia – M2M
- Wikipedia – OBDII
Please read my DISCLAIMER as this NOT an AT&T sponsored post but my own description and opinions.