The Internet of Things: Massive Connectivity Requires Robust Infrastructure

Aug. 17, 2016
As the IoT expands, creating a world where data connectivity is ubiquitous, it is vital to have standards and infrastructure in place to ensure that the data flows safely and efficiently.

The Internet of Things is a buzzword often heard nowadays. The ongoing and unyielding launch of what is commonly referred to as the IoT is insinuating itself into all of our lives in a transparent but fundamentally significant fashion. In much the same way that the Internet was a revolutionary and disruptive force that forever altered how we conduct our social lives, purchase household goods and consume news, IoT will also disrupt and change the status quo.

The Global Standards Initiative on the Internet of Things (IoT-GSI) defined the IoT as “the infrastructure of the information society.” It is increasingly becoming the backbone on which our communication system is based. It is the technology which enables automation to be central to our workplaces.

The growth in IoT devices is virtually exploding. Global marketing intelligence firm IDC predicts IoT to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 19% through 2020 while other connected devices will lag comparatively at only 9.5% CAGR. A global Internet of Things report submitted by Technavio predicts an annual growth rate of more than 20%.

IT research firm Gartner predicted that IoT devices will exceed 26 billion independent units installed by the year 2020. A collaborative report from DHL and Cisco is even more aggressive and estimates 50 billion devices by 2020. IoT players will likely generate revenue exceeding $300 billion, with a current total net worth of $1.4 trillion.

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The number of uses for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is so enormous that it’s impossible to list. IoT will introduce many new enhancements to safety and security as well as greater efficiency and improved environmental sustainability. With countries like the Netherlands and South Korea creating wireless networks entirely devoted to serving IoT devices with Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) a trend has been established.

IoT may make the biggest impact initially on manufacturing processes. For example, sensors can indicate the precise amount of paint to spray on automobile parts or alert machine operators when a die has reached the end of its useful life and is likely to soon exceed established parameters for quality metrics. On the consumer side, we have refrigerators that know when you're running low on milk, toasters that can alert your smartphone when the toast is ready and thermostats that help conserve energy by knowing when you're in the room.

Scarangella: With the tremendous growth of IoT, comprehensive standards will be needed to "accommodate the billions of IoT devices that will be making our collective lives more efficient and sustainable in ways we haven’t yet contemplated."

Cities of the future won’t just be cities – they’ll be smart cities. Smart cities will utilize sensors and actuators to wirelessly connect components like lighting, traffic routing, heating and cooling, emergency response systems and all of the services we associate with city living. We’ll see millions of devices generating and sharing massive amounts of data which will be analyzed and used to assess future patterns through predictive analysis. All with an eye toward functioning more efficiently. McKinsey Research predicts we’ll have 600 smart cities throughout the world by 2020 and they will be responsible for generating 60% of the world’s GDP by 2025.

And that doesn't take into account driverless cars that communicate with each other to avoid traffic jams and fender benders, sensors on farmland alerting farmers to the amount of moisture in the ground or floating buoys sending alerts to boaters and researchers about water temperature, direction and speed of currents and water alkalinity.

With this enormous growth in the IOT, the question you may ask is, "what does that do to bandwidth availability?"

The fact is, many devices only communicate data in a very limited way. Unlike voice or streaming video, there is little concern about latency or interruptions. A low-power, remote sensor in a farm field can relay its data at night or whenever there is less traffic on the network. Data exchange is far less taxing on a wireless network than video or voice.

It’s understood that business will be the driving force for IoT adoption because it will lower operating costs, support increased productivity and open new markets.

IoT applications come in many forms and as such, so do their corresponding network needs. Significant strides in carrier infrastructure will need to be made to address the differing requirements as they relate to the sheer number of devices accessing the network plus their associated bandwidth requirements.

Some M2M communications will require high bandwidth / low latency – like M2M communications in assembly and manufacturing facilities – while devices like field sensors require low bandwidth / high latency to maximize battery life.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GGP) Association is currently reviewing LTE-M Release 13 which will assist in standards for these wide ranging requirements. 3GGP is an industry group that reports on cellular telecommunication network technologies and seeks solutions that provide backward compatibility options.

The challenge is ensuring that wireless networks are capable of providing the service without interruption or signal degradation. Whether the solution is a distributed antenna system (DAS), small cell wireless, LPWAN, Wi-Fi or a heterogeneous network (HetNet) which combines all of these technologies, the systems architecture must be thoughtfully designed, appropriate for the space and capable of being upgraded to meet future needs.

The tremendous growth of IoT and the opportunities it presents are clear and incontrovertible. Fortunately, we have industry groups and global corporations that acknowledge the necessity for comprehensive standards that will accommodate the billions of IoT devices that will be making our collective lives more efficient and sustainable in ways we haven’t yet contemplated.

One thing we can be certain of is an increasingly more connected world where machines frequently exchange information and users generate and access data. A world where data connectivity is ubiquitous – and essential for not only conducting business but also for managing your household and social life.

Joe Scarangella is proposal manager at RF Connect

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