Networking infrastructure underpins the Internet of Things (IoT). With a wide range of network options on offer, it is important you choose one that best fits the demands of the device, its role and location to get the best return on your investment.
Analyst firm Machina Research recently predicted that there would be 27 billion IoT connections in 2025 – up from 6 billion in 2015. This connected world consists of sensors sending data to the cloud and ‘things’, which can be operated remotely. The easier that ‘things’ can connect and communicate, the greater proliferation we will see.
Some commentators says that 5G is the force that will drive IoT, opening up the ability for technologies to transverse a wide range of markets including consumer, city governments, business and healthcare agencies. 5G is seen as the engine power behind IoT because it offers ultra-fast data speeds, low latency and high bandwidth. This makes it perfect for devices like autonomous cars, for example, which require multiple IoT connections and flawless data exchange at speed.
But driverless cars are only at the evolution stage, and many of the IoT deployments that will take advantage of 5G are still on the drawing board. In fact, 5G itself is some time off launch. South Korea hopes to roll out 5G at the Winter Olympics in 2018, while Japan is targeting the 2020 Summer Olympics for its 5G launch.
Multiple connectivity options
However, not all IoT use cases require the speed and bandwidth that 5G offers. These have opted to go down the low power, low speed route to producing low cost solutions.
Take smart watches, for example. Versions with 3G connectivity or no cellular connection work for the market. The truth is the amount of data you are going to load on a smartwatch running Android Wear, for example, running either 3G or 4G LTE is small. The only real advantage you get is that you will in some way future proof your purchase with 4G LTE.
When it comes to the economics, a short-range Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection to a smartphone are seen as offering both battery and cost savings. Similarly many health-based wearables rely on low powered connections to smartphones or laptops for data transfer.
These are perfect examples of how in the consumer space the twin elements of cost and capability need to be finely balanced. It also highlights how practical application needs to be thoughtfully deployed in product development.
Short range technologies
Machina Research spotlights the fact that today 71% of all M2M connections use short-range technologies such as WiFi, Zigbee, or in-building PLC. The analyst firm says that by 2025 this figure will have grown to 72%. Remember, this percentage figure is of a much larger gross number of devices.
Right at the other end of the spectrum from 5G is Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). This has huge potential for connecting devices in product areas such as smart building technologies for homes and offices, as well as in consumer electronics and a range of industrial sectors. Machina Research forecasts 11% of connected devices will use technologies like these in 2025.
There are also numerous standards to consider including NB-IoT, Sigfox, and LoRa. Take the latter LoRa standard, for example, which is interesting because it is an open global standard. LoRa offers long range communications with the promise of very low power consumption and secure data transmissions. Orange is deploying an extensive LoRa network throughout France. By Jan 17, it will have covered 2600 towns with its LoRa network.
Ensuring long life in the slow lane
Many individual IoT device deployments may be viable for some time in terms of the information requirements of the customer, the devices themselves and the networking technology that supports them.
But it is vitally important to keep a close eye on the technology infrastructure. The most imminent issue for many companies active in IoT is to watch closely how national telcos plan to handle 2G and 3G networks over the coming few years.
In Europe, for example, there is still a massive reliance on 2G for M2M IoT, and that means 2G may continue to be offered in Europe beyond the retirement of 3G. Elsewhere in the world, though, 2G’s days are numbered. It is set to be retired soon in Australia, the US, South Korea, Singapore and Japan; 2017 will be its last year in some of those territories.
But even though 2G may have a longer lifespan than 3G in some territories, its life isn’t infinite. If products are designed to last, say, 4-6 years, what will the communications landscape look like in 2022 and will your products be able to function? It is unlikely that the market for M2M IoT will disappear in that timeframe, but it is possible that companies which don’t have an eye on the future of communications will!
Find out more about how Orange Business Services’ IoT Managed Global Connectivity solutions can empower your IoT strategy here
Read more about how IoT is the next stop on the digital transformation roadmap here
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.