The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to create massive disruptions in telecommunications, cable/ broadband, cloud computing and even how we define the Internet. This article explores trends and preconditions that are leading to the perfect storm of change.
The Internet of Things consist of smart connected objects in homes, businesses and our surrounding that has the ability communicate over a multimodal network without human-to-human or human-to-computer involvement.
1. Projected Growth of IoT. According to Cisco, the number of M2M connected objects is expected to reach 50 billion by 2020. That equates to 6.58 connected devices per person. Cisco believes that more than 50% of the connected objects added during 2013–2020 will be added in the last 3 years of the decade when the connectivity costs are at the lowest.
2. High Power Embedded Processors. Many IoT will be “smart”, equipped with powerful embedded processors for advanced computing processes. In a few years, these connected devices can handle processing equivalent to today’s laptops and smartphones.
Semiconductor are rushing ahead to develop system on a chip (SoC) tailored for the IoT. Intel’s codenamed Braswell SoC is aimed at mobile devices, including a version of Android with a 64-bit kernel. Intel also announced systems for the IoT based on its Quark and Atom processors. Broadcom has unveiled a new low-power, Bluetooth Smart SoC, codenamed BCM20737, with RSA 4000-bit encryption and decryption support for securing data while it is being transferred. ARM recently announced the new CPU design center in Taiwan that will focus on the development of ARM Cortex-M processors for IoT products. ARM is also working with AMD to develop embedded chips such as the Hierofalcon 64-bit SoC for the IoT.
3. M2M Flash Memory, RAM and Low-Energy Communication. Another precondition to the IoT and M2M disruption is memory capacity. Currently embedded memory such as Silicon Labs’ ARM-based Ember ZigBee® EM358x SoC product line with ARM Cortex-M3 processor has 256 Kb or 512 Kb of flash memory and 32 Kb or 64 Kb of RAM. The EM358x SoC products supports a 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4 RF transceiver. For long-range radio solutions like cellular M2M, external flash memory and RAM is needed, with minimum requirements of 256 Mb to 512 Mb that with 3G and 4G M2M modules can extend up to 4 Gb of NOR to NAND flash memory and 2 Gb of LPDRAM.
4. Open Wi-Fi Movement. The OpenWireless.org initiative encourages sharing Wi-FI with each other that do not have to fall back on subscriptions to wireless carriers. According to OpenWireless.org, many locked wireless networks sit idle for much of the day. This untapped bandwidth can be better utilized while still allowing the router’s owner to take priority when needed. They plan to integrate an option to route guest traffic over the anonymity software Tor or a VPN that ties it to a different IP address. Each user’s link will be individually encrypted with a protocol called EAP-TLS, the equivalent of HTTPS on every connection for security.
Cooperative Communication: Advancements are being made in wireless sensor network (WSN) approach to use cooperative relaying to reduce the energy consumption in sensor nodes, hence the lifetime of sensor network increases. Presenting star topologies, WSNs can have a central gateway instead of a common base station without Internet access, and thereby offering Internet access in one-hop.
Cooperative diversity improves or maximizes total network channel capacities for any given set of bandwidths by decoding the combined signal of the relayed signal and the direct signal in wireless multi-hop networks. In the simplest cooperative relaying network of three nodes — source, destination and a third node supports the communication between source and destination. Relaying strategies include amplify-and-forward, decode-and-forward, and compress-and-forward strategies. To increase the robustness against multi-path fading, parallel relay transmission can be used. In this topology, signals propagate through multiple relay paths in the same hop and the destination combines the signals received with the help of various combining schemes, which provides power gain and diversity gain.
Wireless Ad Hoc Network: A wireless ad hoc network is an autonomous and self organizing network without any centralized controller or pre-established infrastructure. In this network, distributed nodes form a temporary functional network and support seamless leaving or joining of nodes.
When these trends are taken in totality, the implications are huge. The IoT has the potential to disrupt WSN; harness the IoT for supercomputer processing; and shift consumer data ownership from cloud service providers and proprietary companies to their wireless personal area network (WPAN) for privacy and data ownership.
Today’s 3G/ 4G LTE network architecture is comprised of 1) a network of radio base stations forming the base station subsystem, 2) the core circuit switched network for handling voice calls and text, 3) a packet switched network for handling mobile data, and 4) the public switched telephone network to connect subscribers to the wider telephony network. All mobile data must go through the carrier’s access point network (APN) to connect to the Internet. In the current data network architecture, each mobile device connects to the Internet.
The projected explosion of IoT and wearables will force industries to rethink the mobile network architecture. Researchers will begin to explore other communication approaches that could potentially bypass the Internet entirely by facilitating peer-to-peer communication between the WSN clusters, to form a new Internet comprised of WSNs. IoT has the potential to create interconnected WSNs using wireless network technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, IrDA, and wireless personal area network (WPAN). Overtime, as people opt in to allow their WPANs to communicate with WSNs, communication can occur directly between WSNs rather than through the Internet.
The rise of the mobile devices is having a dramatic impact on mobile network operators (MNOs) such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. IoT will only exacerbate the data traffic problem, as MNOs must support far more data traffic than ever before. According to the Wireless Infrastructure Association, they project wireless infrastructure investments between $34 billion to $36 billion per year over the next several years. Verizon, for example, invested $3 billion in fiber optic infrastructure for New York City alone.
Wireless broadband firms, Cablevision, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, and Time Warner Cable, in a letter to FCC indicated that as an industry they have invested over $1.2 trillion of investment in advanced wired and wireless broadband networks. On average, ISPs invest over $60 billion in cable, fiber, fixed and mobile wireless, phone, and satellite broadband networks each year.
MNOs will be challenged to keep their infrastructure investment pace with the explosion of data traffic from IoT but it also represents new revenue opportunities. Profits from IP applications can be enormous from Internet-enabled devices, especially with a no tethering policy.
On the other hand, if the prognostication about WSNs come true, the reduced traffic through their mobile networks and wireless broadband networks to the Internet could translate into double digit USD billions in infrastructure upgrade savings annually.
The danger to the WNO and cable companies is that the network of 50 billion connected devices could potentially bypass, to a degree, their 3G/4G LTE network and broadband network to communicate with each other through peer-to-peer model via WSNs. This could translate into gradual revenue loss for telecom carriers and cable companies as more subscribers circumvent connection through carrier gateways to avoid/ minimize costly mobile data and broadband plans. Initially, the trend will lean towards open Wi-Fi outside their home that WPANs can gateway through to the Internet. Eventually, a critical mass of WSNs within densely populated metro regions can facilitate seamless wireless communication among WSNs with reasonable degree of reliability and performance.
Supercomputer Processing. Connected devices will become smarter with high performance embedded processors and increased memory and RAM as the per unit cost of SoC and storage continue to drop and components become miniaturized. This has the potential of creating a virtual supercomputer network that could handle data intensive, multi-threaded supercomputer processing.
Data Privacy and Ownership. We can start to take back our data. Expansion of storage capacity in connected devices and wearables will facilitate a shift in personal data storage from cloud service providers and proprietary companies to individuals’ WPANs. For privacy reasons, consumers will opt to store their quantified-self data, photos, videos, social media stream, personal and business files on their WPAN, rather than with Google, Amazon, Apple or Dropbox who mine user data for advertising and monetization. You own and manage your data; that means you get to decide when and how you share your personal data with your doctors, apps, and advertisers.
Omelette, a communication platform created by a Stanford team, validates this trend. The platform tries to redefine the model of data ownership by moving away from proprietary companies owning your personal data to you owning your data. It advocates that you should have ownership over your data and with your permission, share specific data to proprietary services. Omelette never stores your data; it simply passes it and then deletes it. This platform implies that your data resides in your home data center or WPAN.
Server Functions. It will be interesting to see how the IoT could change the functions of traditional servers. Data centers are certainly not going away anytime soon but with increased computing powers and memory of IoT connected devices, it opens up the possibility of those devices handling more of the server functions, in particularly leveraging virtualization.
- Data security
- Standards and protocols
- Power consumption
- Distributed computing performance
- Geographic dead zones with low density of IoT, e.g., fly over states, oceans and less inhabited continents and countries
The implications of IoT is far-reaching with disruption to telecom and cable infrastructure players; semiconductor, memory, server and networking manufacturers; and cloud service providers. IoT opens up opportunities for consumers to take back control of their personal data and take advantage of the potentially low cost of mobile data communication through the IoT network. There are many hurdles to overcome but it’s an interesting space full of promise.
Originally published on Wired on July 3, 2014. Author Scott Amyx.