The Internet of Things will eat your network

Tech industry insiders and pundits debate the IoT’s impact on communication.

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Is your network ready for the Internet of Things (IoT)? That question seems to be on the mind of many IT-market watchers these days. Gary Audin, for one, says that companies need to consider a number of factors to ensure their communications infrastructure is adequately fast and secure. In his recent article in tech journal No Jitter, the communications-technology consultant called out:

Bandwidth – Organizations must ensure their switches, routers and access points support the throughput required for sensors and other IoT items to connect quickly to core systems and to each other. Network latency could mean crucial data comes too late or not at all.

Security – Companies are strict about securing laptops, smartphones and other communications devices against hackers; it’s crucial that IoT items are just as protected. Otherwise, companies may be leaving the network vulnerable to infiltration.

Revenue generation – If the IoT devices also happen to be linked to the company’s sales and revenue streams, bandwidth and security concerns are even more imperative. An IoT hack-attack or bandwidth problem would hurt not only the organization’s operations, but also its bottom line.

Back off: get your own network

The points above link to another question that has been bandied about the industry for a couple of years now: Does the IoT need its own separate network? Forbes magazine reporter Gail Dutton kicked off that debate in an article in 2014 that sparked follow-up blog posts and stories elsewhere.

In her piece, Dutton quoted Suke Jawanda, then the chief marketing officer of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Jawanda argued against the idea that the IoT needs its own communications system. He said that existing network technologies including Wi-Fi, wide-area mobile protocols and — of course — Bluetooth together would provide the requisite infrastructure to allow the IoT concept to thrive.

On the other hand, Google developer advocate Don Dodge noted in a blog post last April that as people and businesses add items to the Internet of things, the communications industry might need to develop a separate IoT network after all.

“Those billions of sensors will require a low-cost network to transmit data,” Dodge wrote. “Wi-Fi is only useful within 100 feet and cell data plans are too expensive for tiny inexpensive sensors.” But, he said, a dedicated, cost-effective meshed network would provide the requisite connectivity.

The HaLow effect

No one seems to have the definitive answer on this matter. But recent events suggest that Jawanda’s dismissal of a separate IoT network might be right. Consider the fact that the Wi-Fi Alliance recently unveiled HaLow, a new version of Wi-Fi designed for the IoT: it’s meant for low-power devices and it reaches over long distances, addressing Dodge’s concern about Wi-Fi’s relatively stubby reach.

Note as well a development in the wide-area wireless arena: In late January, Sony acquired Altair Semiconductor. The US$212 million deal combines Altair’s modem-chip technology and related software for LTE cellular networks with Sony’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and image sensors.

The goal: “…to develop a new breed of cellular-connected, sensing component devices,” the companies said in their press release. Altair’s wares consume conspicuously little power, making them ideal for Sony’s efforts to use LTE networking technology to support IoT implementations.

With these developments, it looks as though the IT industry is more interested in morphing current technologies to accommodate the IoT rather than developing a separate network for it. But that could change. No matter what the future holds, it’s a fair bet that people in charge of making big tech decisions within Canadian organizations — and the folks charged with implementing them — will have plenty to keep them busy in this, the inception of the IoT era.

Illustration: Mark Glucki

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