ADTRAN’s Ronan Kelly says that the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the network.
Throughout history the greatest revolutions have come from the most unassuming of beginnings, be that peasants on the street, chests of tea in a harbour or a shopping mall vending machine programmed to send inventory updates via the Internet…
The ‘revolution’ I refer to, of course, is the Internet of Things (IoT); the term used the world over when speaking about the vanishing point for IP expansion. Started by a vending machine engineered by ARPANET experts, this revolution is evolving with hyper-connected applications for every facet of life across every vertical industry.
The Internet of Things is clearly a force to be reckoned with, but as is the question with all revolutions: what exactly is it revolutionising?
And the answer? The network. Admittedly, as far as network (and even communications) wide transformations go, we’ve already seen a similar revolution in the arrival of the over-the-top (OTT) service provider; a cocktail of truly innovated service, the widespread popularity of smart devices and a dash of widespread available broadband.
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Are network operators ready for the Internet of Things?
Without mentioning the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue losses brought round by the arrival of OTT services, operators had the unenviable task of investing to support the associated consumption of network resources. OTT poster boys like WhatsApp and Netflix have had a truly massive impact on how the largest operators plan for increasingly unpredictable network demands. Luckily for them, if these operators have triumphantly navigated the OTT storm, they should already have the right tools in place to contend with IoT.
4G and LTE access services are already placing many networks under considerable strain, and exhausting available capacity. More subscribers are using more devices, and 5G is on its way by the beginning of the next decade. Add IoT traffic into the mix and the problem exacerbates. The ability to support far greater capacity, perhaps under the auspices of broader architectural changes, will need to evolve in step with these requirements.
Like OTT before it, the mobile access network will not be the only area affected by IoT. Whether the ‘Thing’ is hardwired, dependent upon a cellular or satellite network for its connectivity, or harnesses short-range wireless technologies like Bluetooth and ANT+ for a machine-to-machine interface, the extra loads heaped upon the backhaul network are the same. Capacity is under pressure and service quality is at risk as a result.
Many predict that realised, ratified 5G standards are set to arrive by the early 2020s. While this may seem like a long way off, it would be prudent of operators to begin planning for it now, if they’re not already. In fact, 2020 looks set to be a pivotal year: the US government and European Commission, amongst others targeting this arbitrary line in the sand as a deadline date for ubiquitous superfast broadband services; putting more pressure on existing broadband networks to cope, and for new optical infrastructures to be created. The clock is certainly ticking.
By the year 2020, 50 billion ‘things’ will be connected to the Internet, five times more than today. While that sounds a gargantuan scale, it’s still a mere drop in the ocean. An amazing 99.7% of the connectable ‘things’ that exist globally would still be unplugged
It would appear the IoT is not such a revolution after all. Or not yet, at least.
Ronan Kelly is CTO of EMEA & APAC at ADTRAN
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