The Internet of Things (IoT) is a big headache. On the consumer side, you have numerous devices flooding the market that don't or barely talk to each other, attempts to lock customers into a specific service for recurring revenue, and some of the lamest to non-existent security since the early days of Wi-Fi back in the '90s. Business IoT, while complex for different reasons, looks to be the best opportunity for making money if the number of announcements coming out of Mobile World Congress this week is any indication.
"Why do you rob banks?" legendary bank robber Willy Sutton was reportedly asked. "Because that's where the money is," Sutton replied. The cellular industry's rush into IoT with promises of 5G managing millions of device per square kilometer is definitely driven by the perception of that's where the money will be.
In some respects, the wireless industry has been here before with the rollout of LTE. Go back a decade or so to look up the visions of LTE-enabled washing machines and other in-home devices, where consumers would not own their appliances, but pay by the wash. Yes, you'd essentially turn your home into a phone company owned Laundromat for the wonders of LTE. How'd that work out, Verizon?
Business IoT is a different creature in a number of respects. Any enterprise thinking about IoT for monitoring of places or things is thinking scale -- hundreds, thousands and more. Enterprises, unlike fickle consumers, will pay more and stay longer with an established service provider, so long as they get value and few headaches.
Finally, a business IoT commitment is a COMMITMENT. Due to the size of the rollout, an IoT monitoring network is going into place to operate for years to decades. Current generation targets for battery life are expected to be 10 years or greater; so you're installing a monitoring device once and not touching it for a decade. Ingenu 's 2.4 GHz long-range low-power RPMA monitoring solution is expected to run for 20 years on a single battery, roughly akin to the lifetime or longer of many sorts of machinery.
It's no big surprise that all the talk out of Mobile World Congress this week is the announcement of LTE-based IoT hardware and services. LTE is here today, it can get an upgrade to 5G -- whatever 5G means this week in the marketing department -- and it plays into the service provider’s love of enterprise business. AT&T and Verizon both had a number of IoT announcements this week with partners ranging from Cisco to GE.
But cellular carriers aren't the only game in town for IoT networks. If you are going far afield from a tower, Iridium and ORBCOMM have upgraded their respective satellite networks to track and monitor everything from shipping containers to oil pipelines. Ingenu, leveraging unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum around the globe and its RPMA technology, is building out a global IoT network that is cheaper to deploy and operate than cellular networks. Meanwhile, French-based Sigfox is working its own IoT proprietary tech in the ISM radio band, trading off lower cost for much lower data bandwidth.
All the different choices in IoT networks means there's a lot of room for system integrators and resellers to navigate. There's no such thing as one-size-fits all, with a requirement trade space that includes number and type of things to be monitored, bandwidth needed for monitoring, and location of things in the real world. Having the "world's largest IoT" network -- whatever that means in marketing-speak -- is useless if reporting and monitoring requires more bandwidth than is available from the solution.
Patience and demonstration of capabilities for IoT networks are necessary before selecting a final solution. Hasty weddings often lead to ugly divorces.
Edited by Ken Briodagh