We’ve all seen the predictions. Gartner says that the Internet of Things (IoT) will have 26 billion units installed by 2020, and product and service suppliers will pull in revenue exceeding $300 billion worldwide. IDC predicts that in Canada the number of IoT devices will grow from 28 million units in 2013 to 114 million by 2018, excluding consumer wearable devices.
And that, says Fabrizio Biscotti, research director at Gartner, means there will be a lot of data to be collected and processed, and that’s going to cause problems.
“Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centers, leaving providers facing new security, capacity and analytics challenges,” he said.
In other words, those busy little Things spewing big data are going to cause bigger problems on networks, from the enterprise to the Internet.
“With billions more devices generating and sharing net-new streams of data, current network designs will need to be completely re-architected to accommodate not only the volume of anticipated traffic, but the unique needs of entirely new classes of always-on, always-connected, real-time-capable devices,” noted independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.
The fact that the bulk of these communications will be machine-to-machine (M2M) further complicates matters. Machine-to-machine communications, says Gartner, “is used for automated data transmission and measurement between mechanical or electronic devices.” Key components of an M2M system are: Field-deployed wireless devices with embedded sensors or RFID-Wireless communication networks with complementary wireline access includes, but is not limited to cellular communication, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, WiMAX, wireless LAN (WLAN), generic DSL (xDSL) and fiber to the x (FTTx).”
Think smart meters, for example, which continuously send each household’s electricity consumption data back to the utility through a wireless grid network.
The trouble is, the networking technology that serves us relatively well in business is not necessarily well-suited for IoT. Most IoT devices are extremely low energy, and current 802.11 wireless has no energy-saving components. That’s why the wireless governing body, the IEEE, is working on a new standard, 802.11ah, specifically designed to accommodate IoT devices and traffic. In addition, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is working on the cellular side, uniting seven telecommunications standard development organizations to cover cellular telecommunications network technologies, including radio access, the core transport network, and service capabilities, as well as providing hooks for non-radio access to the core network, and for internetworking with Wi-Fi networks.
Another industry group working on the problem, the LoRa Alliance, is an association of telecom operators and vendors whose aim is to develop a worldwide standard for networks that operate on low frequency and to ensure interoperability between telecom operators.
However, there are some mitigating factors that may help save corporate networks from collapsing under the strain. Analysts at IDC offered the following predictions during the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Internet of Things 2015 Predictions Web conference:
- IoT at the edge. By 2018, 40 per cent of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to, or at the edge, of the network, cutting down on the amount of traffic.
- IoT and network capacity. Within three years, 50 per cent of IT networks will transition from having excess capacity to handle the additional IoT devices to being network constrained with nearly 10 per cent of sites being overwhelmed. However, Levy believes that technology will rise to the challenge.
- IoT and non-traditional infrastructure. By 2017, 90 per cent of data centre and enterprise systems management will rapidly adopt new business models to manage non-traditional infrastructure and BYOD device categories.
- IoT and vertical diversification. Today, over 50 per cent of IoT activity is centered in manufacturing, transportation, smart city, and consumer applications, but within five years all industries will have rolled out IoT initiatives.
Disturbing predictions – even 10 per cent of networks becoming overwhelmed is way too much. Gartner, however, believes that network architectures will change to accommodate the new traffic mix, including, as IDC also predicts, edge processing to reduce the traffic heading to central locations. Others see parallel IoT networks, running protocols optimized for the technology, as the solution. Belgian telecom operator Proximus is already rolling out an M2M offering incorporating LoRa in major cities, which it plans to expand next year throughout Belgium and into Luxembourg.
A survey last year by management software vendor Spiceworks showed that many of the networking professionals surveyed plan to put their IoT devices on a separate subnet to keep the traffic from interfering with regular business traffic. They also are already upgrading their bandwidth and shifting some functions to the cloud. In doing so, said the report, “Many IT pros are inadvertently paving the way for IoT in the workplace.”
And despite industry uncertainty, Levy is optimistic.
“For all the doomsday worries over how the industry will meet the challenge, I expect carriers and vendors to meet the challenge head-on and somehow keep the right balls in the air,” he said. “Whether affected regions and governments choose to invest wisely – and prepare enough in advance to ensure they’re ready – remains to be seen.”