IoT Is Coming, and Carriers Must Build Smart
IoT Is Coming, and Carriers Must Build Smart
The big four carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – are building advanced mobile networks across the country to support the never-ending demand for data and cellular capacity from the nearly two-thirds of Americans who own smartphones. In fact, 30 percent of smartphone-dependent Americans say they “frequently” max out the data allowed as part of their cellphone plans, according to Pew Research.
The data crunch is about to get worse, and just adding capacity isn’t the answer.
Gartner estimates that there are already some 4.9 billion connected “things” — gadgets and other smart connected technology. In just a few months, CES will serve as the main stage for companies involved in the IoT, from transportation and agriculture to health care and consumer. Between connected cars, appliances like coffee makers and washing machines, fitness trackers and health monitors, and dozens of other techs that will soon be clamoring for capacity, today’s already overly connected world might look like the good old days of capacity abundance.
For these new technologies to fulfill their promise, carriers need to understand the technical and market implications of IoT devices, applications and systems — including how IoT-related services will be delivered and how they will impact wireless traffic. And then, they need to implement infrastructure designed with these factors in mind. Carriers need to retool their approaches to network building, and today’s standards must be adjusted to accommodate new wireless devices and systems.
IoT or machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is actually considered data-light and somewhat intermittent — much different from the data-heavy applications used by consumers on smartphones now. Continuing to build carrier-quality networks designed primarily for high capacities will not be cost-effective or efficient. In fact, the GSMA, with the support of AT&T and other primary carriers as well as several wireless infrastructure vendors around the world, has already introduced the Mobile IoT Initiative to help standardize and facilitate the deployment of the IoT systems that will be taking over cellular networks.
For instance, connected devices used for metering, data collection or equipment tracking only send out small bursts of data periodically. Instead of building a traditional network designed to carry data-intensive traffic, carriers should consider meshed networks involving some combination of new IoT-specific infrastructure and existing cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
Uniting Many Moving Parts
Plenty of wrinkles will need to be ironed out for the successful rollout of these new networks once the parameters are decided on, and channel partners need to pay attention in several areas — starting now.
First, watch for interoperability, connectivity and standards. New IoT operators will have to interconnect and work closely with existing cellular carriers, wireless operators, ISPs and others. IoT will change the way WANs and the Internet work, from data source to data center, and it’s an open question as to how willing current carriers will be to invest in or share their networks with new players.
Organizations like the Wi-Fi Alliance have begun doing their part to help companies that are not traditionally versed in connective technology but want to bring devices, like toasters and washing machines, into the Internet of Things and make sure they are compatible with the interoperability standards and security protections needed in this new era of the connected home. These efforts should be encouraged.
Additionally, these new, hybrid networks will need maintenance, performance monitoring and continued improvement over time. To ensure IoT initiatives are delivering on performance promises, the major carriers and new players will need to deploy routine assessments and independent benchmarking tests. Only by capturing essential KPIs, like throughput and task completion rates and upload and download speeds, can they determine if their networks are operating at an optimal level of performance.
For solutions providers helping customers with IoT initiatives, that’s critical information to have.
The major carriers already conduct these strict benchmarking programs for their cellular networks, and as IoT-specific and mesh networks begin rolling out, they should follow a similar path. Industries from the government to e-commerce will be looking to leverage the coming explosion of connected devices, and without routine performance assessments and monitoring, the consequences of failure could be severe. Maybe an untested network is not routinely transmitting data from a metering device, or perhaps there is a security breach; neither would bode well for the success of an operator or the partner responsible for setting up that account.
IoT networks are poised to be as common as cellular networks, and consumers, partners and carriers alike have a stake in ensuring these networks are being held to the same quality standards associated with the wireless services we receive today.
Paul Carter is the CEO of Global Wireless Solutions Inc.