The Future of Scalable IoT
Instrumenting the world with low-cost sensors is enabling businesses, cities and countries to change the way value is created. Whether executing a “smart cities” strategy, implementing a county-wide wireless infrastructure for water metering and management, or instrumenting buildings with air quality and occupancy sensors to support COVID-19 return to work policies, how this is achieved at a meaningful scale is starting to take shape.
As businesses, cities and citizens become increasingly data-driven, their networks must evolve with them. Bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) to life requires a close collaboration between public and private entities with a focus on advancing the network platforms needed to connect and manage billions of sensor-enabled connected devices simultaneously.
While many Communication Service Providers continue to deploy IoT networks and sell connectivity services based on legacy business models, Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings from relative newcomers are changing the game. New Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) connectivity technologies paired with NaaS and PaaS business models allow highly scalable IoT networks to be built where they are needed, when they are needed and at the optimal cost (Figure 1).
Public operator managed networks, private networks and decentralized crowdsourced networks are shaking up the traditional network infrastructure market to support IoT. The differing architectures of these networks has also meant a change in the way they need to be managed. With dynamic performance management, application optimization and zero-touch device management becoming increasingly important, network operation, interconnection and management is being reinvented to support large scale, highly distributed sensor-enabled environments.
CAROUSEL OF TECH REFRESHES
With analysts predicting 25 billion connected sensor-enabled devices and $1 trillion in total market value by 2025 , the Internet of Things may represent more innovation and change than any other technological development in our lifetime.
While cellular and Wi-Fi may have met the goals of early proprietary or single use Machine to Machine (M2M) applications, they do not adequately address the needs of today’s large-scale and repeatable IoT solutions. In addition, the forced refresh cycles of cellular connectivity are now creating challenges for early adopters. According to recent research, the sunsetting of 2G and 3G will affect more than 50% of all existing cellular-based IoT devices . Mobile network operators are addressing this with low power technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, yet adoption of these technologies has been underwhelming, with less than two million devices deployed in the U.S. by the end of 2019 .
5G has been hyped as the next best connectivity option for IoT at scale, with operators and system integrators eager to showcase use cases and feature it in new product offerings. However, enterprise adoption has been minimal. ABI Research estimates there are only 290 publicly disclosed private 5G network deployments globally . Even if several times that number have yet to be disclosed, it’s a very small share of the IoT market.
To be successful, today’s IoT deployments demand a combination of low-cost, long range network connectivity, long sensor battery life, enterprise-grade security and SLA backed carrier-grade network service (Figure 2). These needs are now being met by technologies much newer than cellular and purpose built for IoT.
LoRaWAN FOR MASSIVE IoT
Of the billions of IoT sensor-enabled devices expected to be connected over the next few years, more than half are estimated to operate using Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) supporting low bit rate communication over long distances. Designed for sensors and applications that need to send and receive small amounts of data just a few times per hour or maybe only once a day, LPWANs are transforming the way things are monitored and measured.
Of all LPWAN technologies, LoRaWAN (the open LPWAN specification supported by the nonprofit LoRa Alliance) has emerged as the leading technology for the broadest range of outdoor and in-building applications. LoRaWAN is differentiated by its open ecosystem, low power consumption, long range, strong security specifications and scalability for capacity. LoRaWAN offers value that cannot be achieved with other technologies, including:
- Substantially lower cost in both capital and operational expense
- The ability to deploy sensor-based solutions with a lifespanof over 10 years
- Long range and dense wireless network coverage provided by a small number of gateways
- Strong propagation characteristics with the ability to provide coverage in hard-to-reach places
- Flexible connectivity options, including public, private and hybrid network deployments
- A large global ecosystem of device and application partners
In addition, there are critical security, reliability, and scalability benefits inherent in the LoRaWAN protocol. The protocol was designed with end-to-end security as a fundamental element of the architecture. Communications on the network between end nodes and the application server are secure using AES-128 encryption. This end node “VPN-like” service ensures data integrity and security for sensitive application data.
CONNECTING THE FUTURE
Today, sensor-based Internet of Things applications are driving advancements across commercial and consumer markets where they are being used to streamline operations, enhance productivity and support the creation of new services. The benefits are not only coming from expected opportunities such as metering and asset tracking, but from applications that instrument ordinary or hidden business activities with the promise of yielding revolutionary results.
Network expansion is being driven by innovative deployment and ecosystem engagement models supported by change in traditional networking architectures. These changes are motivating a range of companies to offer new deployment models, pricing structures and partnerships suited to support the explosion of low bandwidth IoT device availability.
The early successes of first movers have created the foundational proof points other markets are seeking to justify their IoT technology choice and go-to-market strategies, which is now leading to large-scale commercial deployments that will fulfill the promise of IoT.
 GSMA IoT Revenue: State of the Market 2020
 James Brehm & Associates, “IoT Results & News Roundup thru Q3 2019”
 James Brehm & Associates, “State of the Market”, 2019
 ABI Research, “Shared Spectrum and Private Networks Tracker”, 3Q 2021
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PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • NOVEMBER 2021 #376 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article