Today’s wireless networks – AT&T Mobility, Sprint, T-Mobile US, Verizon Wireless and other regional operators – are designed and maintained to accommodate data-intensive devices and their communicative capabilities. Networks are built to support our interconnectedness – for when we download large files and spreadsheets to get an idea of next quarter’s budget; when we send our favorite images of the day to our family; or when we are streaming our favorite television shows on Netflix. There are many ways in which we depend on our mobile devices, and by extension, the strength of wireless operators.
This said, many networks are not yet ready for connecting a new wave of devices that within the next decade will become commonplace: the “Internet of Things.” With IoT, operators will be able to monitor and integrate widespread systems with one another; or, on a more personal level, with the press of a button, all household electronics will turn on/off and arm a home security alarm. Many devices are already growing in popularity, such as Apple’s iWatch, the Nest thermostat and the August Smart Lock.
Once IoT is fully implemented and past the point of early adoption, it will enable seamless communication between devices. According to a recent Gartner report, the world is currently on track to have an active installed base of 26 billion supported devices by 2020 (excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones). That’s nearly 30-times more than the 900 million IoT devices that were reported in 2009 – and the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Supporting the Internet of Things
Technologically, machine-to-machine communication is data light and intermittent, rather than constant and data heavy, the latter categorizing the primary use of wireless networks today due to tablets and smartphones.
Networks must adjust accordingly in order to support this emerging trend of interconnectivity. For example, in the instance of pressing a single button to turn off all electronics in your house while simultaneously arming your security system, a simple internal Wi-Fi or Bluetooth network is all that’s required to facilitate communication in this environment. Project this to a larger network-wide scale, where a great multitude of devices, geographically separated, are required to communicate to one another, and it becomes clear that new types of networks will be needed to optimally manage IoT-specific applications and systems.
Wireless operators must adjust accordingly in order to support this emerging trend of interconnectivity. In particular, operators must continue to build networks that can support typical heavy data use by today’s apps while creating new networks, designed to handle the frequent but constant bursts of data from IoT related apps. While maintaining a data connection is intensive, carrier networks will prove to be the true driving force in enabling an IoT future – without them, device-to-device communication will be largely limited to in-home Wi-Fi.
A system of checks and balances
As operators optimize their networks, it’s important to understand and consider the significance of benchmarking from third-party companies (benchmarking refers to testing and measuring network performance on a routine basis, before and after an upgrade, or against other networks). National operators commonly subject their infrastructure to strict benchmarking programs to monitor performance across networks both routinely as well as before and after major enhancement initiatives. This process yields key indicators that give operators a snapshot of performance, educating further infrastructure upgrade decisions and enabling operators to make legally supportable marketing claims.
In short, benchmarking acts as a checks and balances system for operators, and the same practice should be held for new emerging IoT-specific networks. If not, performance promised may not be performance delivered. The systems connected by IoT devices may be significant; if certain messages fail to deliver, it could mean an entire slip in reported analytics, negatively impacting the whole system. Benchmarking will be an important driver to ensuring a thriving environment for an era of interconnectivity.