What Does Internet of Things (IoT) Mean To You
IoT in the Lime Light
Over the last few years, I have been fascinated to watch how the debate around the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved. I was particularly interested to see the UK Government, in 2015, allocate £40M towards research into the internet of things to focus on healthcare, social care and smart city.
In the broadest possible terms, the Internet of Things is the connectivity of things that are able to communicate data about themselves to the “network” or to be controlled from the network. This means that the Internet of Things is as nebulous, ubiquitous and diverse as the internet itself, examples of IoT devices could range from the iKettle to devices use sophisticated monitoring of HD video to support mission critical applications like traffic flow management.
The aim of IoT is to do something useful with the data generated from the devices embedded in the network. In its simplest, raw form, the data can be used directly to control an iKettle or to monitor and display the position of a vehicle with a GPS locator. However, the use of analytical tools and knowledge management systems can convert this raw data into information and knowledge that can then be acted upon, traffic information systems are good examples of this. This can be further enhanced with workflow management and bespoke algorithms to make autonomous or semi-autonomous decisions. An example would be a traffic management system that dynamically controls the traffic flow based on data received from sensors monitoring traffic flow, speeds, road conditions, video etc. and uses this to modify traffic light sequencing, speed limits, lane allocation and route alternatives. This could be further enhanced by adding intelligent systems able to learn from previous experiences.
From Data to Wisdom – Russell Ackoff1
It is clear that the foundation for IoT is the ability to connect the devices to central points for processing and/or actions to be taken. This connectivity must meet the needs of the IoT enabled service including; bandwidth needs, latency requirements, real time or off line, mission critical or best effort and many more.
In recent years we have seen huge technological advances in telecoms technology and these advances provide the tool-set to start realizing the dream of IoT with today’s network. In wireless; LTE introduced support for data services, improved coverage and higher capacity, this allows for the wireless connection of IoT devices. With IP we now have a ubiquitous technology for data services and MPLS has become the defacto standard for transporting these data services efficiently. For full IP connectivity IP/MPLS is used, if deterministic behavior is required then MPLS-TP is used. Legacy services can be transported over these network by using circuit emulation. These various transport technologies allow the complete range of IoT devices to be connected to the network.
The IP layer can then be aggregated and transported over the optical layer if high capacity is required. In optics we have seen continual improvements in capacity, 200G per wavelength is now commercially deployed giving 19.2Tbit/s per optical fibre Flexible optical add drop multiplexers (ROADMs) allow this capacity to be connected where it is required in the network. This allows the data collected from the devices to be aggregated efficiently and backhauled for processing and analysis.
However, an IoT system must ensure that it is truly secure and cyber security must be architected in from the start across the whole network, not added as a bolt-on in specific hot-spots. In the diagram below we show a typical security architecture.
As we move into the near future we see further advances in the telecoms networks enabling further advances in the reach and scope of IoT. With software defined networking (SDN) in conjunction with network functions virtualization (NFV) and 5G mobile we're about to enter a paradigm shift in the way networks are constructed and operated. NFV allows us to position compute and store resource where it is required in the network and to adjust the size of this resource as required for the service. SDN allows a service to autonomously create new network connectivity and to adjust the capacity of this connectivity in real time. 5G mobile promises to optimize the mobile network to support IoT, with the ability to connect to millions of devices and to use “network slicing” to optimize the network performance on a per service basis. These advances will allow process intensive, realtime IoT ecosystems like a fully integrated traffic management system, linking into driverless cars to become a reality.
ithThe building blocks for the IoT have been in widespread use for many years. What is new is the availability of a secured telecoms network that intelligently links multifarious devices with intelligent systems and end users. However, if the full potential offered by IoT is to be realized then we will see totally different ecosystems being brought together to create truly disruptive innovation with e-health and e-education already being great examples. The transport network is key in enabling this innovation by providing the elasticity to adapt and evolve to meet emergent connectivity requirements that disruptive innovation will bring. With the evolution in telecoms networks and IoT we now have the potential for fundamental improvements to the way in which many of our ecosystems operate which is now being recognized by governments as a true opportunity to move society forwards.
1 Ackoff, R. L., "From Data to Wisdom", Journal of Applies Systems Analysis, Volume 16,1989 p 3-9.