The Coming of Age of IoT Networks


The four major carrier networks that we are all accustomed to—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—have built and deployed advanced, robust networks across the nation. They’re all set to support the unending demand for data and cellular connectivity from the country’s 200 million smartphones. Consumers depend on wireless networks to stay interconnected—it’s the fabric that keeps everyone together and allows for immediate communication.

Paul Carter, CEO,
Global Wireless Solutions

However, these networks are built to support data intensive devices, at the ready to let consumers across the nation download and upload large files at a whim. At this year’s CES, there was a lot of buzz around IoT home networks, LTE-equipped cars and other similar tech. The promise of these technologies has given rise to a new type of network, one far different from the standard networks built and operated by the nation’s major carriers.

The new networks
Today, Gartner estimates that there are some 4.9 billion connected things—gadgets and other smart technology interconnected with other things. While there is a lot of hype in how IoT will affect smart homes and, for example, allow consumers to automatically have coffee start brewing when they get up in the morning, the real impact will be in manufacturing, utilities and transportation.

In order for IoT to have this impact, however, appropriate delivery systems and standards need to be in place to support it. Since IoT/M2M communication is data light and intermittent, as opposed to smartphone app counterparts, building carrier-grade networks designed for higher capacities may not be very efficient and not cost effective. When applied outside the home and used for commercial applications like data collection, metering and equipment tracking, the network only has to send out small bursts of data. IoT systems are generally light in data and power usage and less capital intensive to deploy. IoT services will most likely be delivered over meshed networks involving some combination of new IoT-specific infrastructure and existing cellular and wifi networks. In fact, recently the GSMA, with the backing of AT&T, other major carriers, and wireless infrastructure vendors worldwide, introduced the “Mobile IoT Initiative” to help foster deployment of IoT systems over cellular networks.

We’re beginning to see these new networks come to fruition. Take, for example, Sigfox, a French company specializing in IoT networks, which has already built a nationwide network in France, and recently started rolling out a network in San Francisco. Sigfox has the goal of having its network fully deployed across the US by 2018, a benchmark that consumers would be surprised to see compared to their current bandwidth hungry apps.

This rollout begs a few questions, though. How will these new operators work with existing cellular carriers, wireless operators and ISPs? What will the overall network from data source to data center look like? How will interconnection work, and how willing are current carriers to invest in or share their networks with new IoT operators?

Ironing out the wrinkles
While networks specifically designed for IoT will roll out, and be lighter than their carrier brethren, they’ll still have the same responsibilities: maintenance, performance monitoring and improvement. In order for today’s carriers to ensure that their networks are always delivering on promised performance, they routinely hire third-party firms to conduct independent benchmarking tests. These tests capture core KPIs like throughput rates, task completion rates, and testing for speed when it comes to downloading and uploading data.

It’s common for carriers to subject their cellular networks to strict benchmarking programs to help them identify the overall health and status of the network. As IoT networks are rolled out, they should also follow a rigorous benchmarking program. If these networks are to help facilitate government and ecommerce initiatives, among others, then it’s important to routinely assess them to ensure they’re able to perform.

IoT networks are coming of age, and as they become as entrenched in our lives like our current cell phone networks, they should hold themselves to the same standards and onus of improvement as carriers.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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