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Reality Check: Moving mobility forward with MBIM

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reality Check column where C-level executives and advisory firms from across the mobile industry share unique insights and experiences.

Faster device launches, reduced device install times and cross-platform compatibility are a few of the benefits mobile operators and device manufacturers can experience when incorporating the mobile broadband interface model on their devices. Microsoft has adopted the standard in all of their Windows 8 devices and although we are now seeing evidence of these benefits in the market, the industry has a long way to go.

What’s next? Beyond the smartphone, tablet and embedded laptop are players in the mobile ecosystem who are investing in telemetry, telematics, smart health devices and “connected home” products. The incorporation of MBIM in current and upcoming product development provides built-in cost savings across mobile broadband product lines.

What is MBIM?

MBIM is a networking solution for USB-based mobile broadband devices and embedded modems. Developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), MBIM 1.0 is a protocol for host and device connectivity for any device with USB support including desktops, laptops, tablets and machine-to-machine devices. The specification supports multiple generations of GSM and CDMA-based 3G and 4G packet data services, including LTE.

Essentially, MBIM standardizes the transport of device control and IP frames using a single, logical USB interface. Previously, USB devices that contained multiple functions had to expose each of those functions through a separate USB interface. For example, a broadband device might have separate interfaces for controlling connectivity, IP traffic, device management, GPS and diagnostics. Having multiple interfaces consumes multiple USB endpoints, which then require multiple host drivers to manage the device. The MBIM class driver can now handle the transport of all of these functions.

Extending the OS

Extensibility mechanisms for MBIM-enabled devices allow developers to augment (not replace) functionality supported by the operating system. MBIM extensions can be easily integrated without having to rewrite connectivity applications, middleware SDKs or device drivers. An example of a network-related extension for operators would be augmenting the basic signal strength provided by MBIM with information from the attached cellular tower to redirect traffic to nearby Wi-Fi locations when a user is experiencing poor signal strength. This would enable new host functionality to locate the device and find Wi-Fi offload locations using standards such as ANDSF.

MBIM extensions can also be used to enable self-service through automated diagnostics. By collecting local performance data from the device, specific tests can troubleshoot connectivity components, pinpoint issues such as lost 3G or 4G signal or device performance issues, and report into an analytics system. With aggregated performance metrics, operators have a better understanding of how devices are performing on their network. Advanced MBIM extensions can query additional data parameters from the device, such as extended firmware version, device health, device temperature, or setting the device into a special mode of operation.

Device service streams is a protocol reserved for bulk data transfer and data streaming. With a DSS extension, an original equipment manufacturer can create a device firmware update function where a new version of the device firmware could be rapidly sent from the host to the device for re-flashing. Device services provide a standard, unified interface for different functional units within a device, allowing MBIM extensions to be specified once by the operator and implemented across multiple types of mobile broadband devices by the OEMs.

Benefits across platforms and form factors

While Windows 8 was the first OS to use MBIM, the new standard can be supported on other PC and mobile platforms. With MBIM class drivers, OEMs and operators can leverage their investment in MBIM devices across legacy Windows operating systems, such as Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP, as well as Mac OS X and Linux to reduce implementation and support costs for managing multiple hardware platforms and operating systems.

M2M products with MBIM can also benefit from the reduction of re-engineering and associated costs. MBIM standard APIs fulfill many of the requirements of most telematics and telemetry applications, providing manufacturers true plug-and-play functionality.

The future: connected everything

Increasingly, any device with a screen also has a wireless radio: televisions, home printers, automobiles, etc. MBIM accelerates the delivery of emerging technologies and value-added services to a variety of devices and operating systems. Manufacturers of M2M products can use MBIM to more efficiently collect device information across numerous sensors in fleet management, agricultural regions and smart grid utilities. As the world becomes more connected, the value of standards-based solutions, to extend data and services across a variety of operating systems and form factors, multiplies exponentially.


By utilizing MBIM and its flexible extensibility mechanism, device manufacturers and mobile operators can standardize basic functionality on a variety of device types and stay focused on the development of new features and value-added services.

David Sperling joined the company in April 1989 and has been the company’s Director of Software Engineering since April 1992. He assumed the CTO position in September 1999. Sperling began his professional career as a software engineer at the company and currently has two issued and seven patents pending for various telephony and Internet technologies. Sperling holds a B.S. degree in Computer Science and an MBA from the University of California, Irvine.


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