Infrastructure Needed For The “Internet Of Things”

Having devices talk to each other without some massive changes in communications technology will create a huge mess.

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By Pallab Chatterjee
There has been a lot of buzz about the “Internet of Things” (IoT), the world being “constantly connected,” “wireless everywhere” and “ubiquitous connectivity.” These are great ideas and they’re driving the development of mobile and sensor-based devices. However, for the data to show up someplace, whether it is the cloud or a private repository, data networking systems have to coordinate and manage those connections.

The big question is how should the systems manage device communications? Unlike normal computing devices that provide information on a time scale of people entering and completing tasks (forms, Web views, video requests, etc.), these IoT devices will be on 24/7 x 365 and send data to someplace on a constant scheduled basis. On average, a technology-rich home has about seven connected devices per person, and typically only one of those is actively transferring outbound data at any particular time. In a standard house of four people, that makes 28 devices controlled by a central wireless access point (WAP), of which the sub $100 device has to load balance, switch and prioritize a maximum of four data streams at under 100Mb/s. This task is currently solvable by automation and does not require any active device management, prioritization intervention or overwhelming security features. The data then goes out one broadband pipe.

The IoT, or “next-generation” connected home, looks quite different. In addition to those 28 devices, there will be about 75 connected devices (lights, appliances, power, HVAC, garage door, TV, cable, DVR/VOD, medical, health & fitness, sports, gaming & entertainment, etc.) that are added. Currently there are no completely autonomous systems that handle 100 “users” on a network without support. In fact, 100 users on a network has been the transition point from small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to midsize and large businesses (MLBs) for the networking community. MLBs generally require a live 24/7 person to keep them functional. In the home, this is not practical and that intelligence, as well as the security hardware for the data transfer, has to be made auto-configurable, self-repairing and in-the-field upgradeable to support new devices.

The issue becomes even more complex when it involves multiple sites. For residential use, that could mean a primary home and any extra properties (vacation home, timeshare, RV, etc.). It also includes offsite network access and administration for household members who may be in other locations (at college, at work, or on a business trip) and will most likely include control and configuration for “grandma’s house.” It is anticipated that a typical “household manager” may need to configure and maintain an average of 300 devices over 10 locations for a typical “home endpoint.”

For the commercial sector, products like the new cloud interface WAP from Zyxel and the Motorola NX9000 Integrated services controller are available. These devices allow for centralized control, configuration and management of many network connected WAPs and end devices. The Motorola device can support up to 10,000 WAPs so multi-national companies can use a centralized control, and support individualized devices connected to these WAPs through the Internet. In the commercial space, the end devices (up to 1,000 per WAP) include the merging of RF handsets (walkie-talkies interfaced to VoIP), smart phones, custom wireless devices and mobile computing (netbook, tablet, laptop) into centralized WiFi, and then managing that traffic.

As mobile devices and IoT devices get created and start to utilize multi-core computing, the network data transfer, scheduling and device configuration must be integrated into the firmware and inherent function of the devices. Today’s standard of “setup for DHCP” and “rely on user operated control” is not sufficient for next-generation autonomous devices. With the systems including configuration and management as part of the device architecture, and system verification for compatibility with data transfer protocols and wireless handshakes, we will not end up with a functional “Internet of Things.” Instead, we will have a large background noise of unconnected data traffic that just degrades and disrupts our current level of connected experience.