You know that joke where someone on the other end of the line asks “Is your refrigerator running?” When you answer “Yes,” of course, you’re then directed to go catch it. Interestingly, that core question of whether or not my fridge is functioning (or trotting down the street) is taking on a whole new meaning. Now, bear with me.
Perusing the refrigerator aisle at any appliance store, a consumer will probably notice the usual slew of large white and chrome- and wood-plated boxes to keep my food cold. Sure, most of these refrigerators carried out this basic task equally well, despite some design variances across the board. But look closer. Much like a home security and thermostat, the higher-end pieces are controllable via smartphone. What’s a smartphone doing controlling a fridge?
Well, there’s a paradigm shift quietly happening right now. And it’s occurring in your living room, bedroom, kitchen and even workplace and city streets. While seemingly innocuous gadgets – whether a household washer or a municipal street lamp – appear lifeless, they’re actually slowly becoming connected to networks to serve a useful purpose and make everyday life more efficient.
Although the connected-devices market today is dominated mostly by smartphones, we are moving towards a future with where devices connect to each other, creating what many in the industry call the “Internet of Everything.” In addition to one-way communication driven largely by humans controlling a variety of devices via smartphones, previously lifeless are springing alive through network connections and actually talking to one another – without ever needing human input. Machines talking to other machines.
While mobile data generated by human users actually dwarves the overall amount of data generated by M2M, the criticality of this M2M data could be is what stands out. Are networks themselves ready? How does the management and monitoring of these networks change? What does the term “customer experience management” mean when the customer in this case is a machine or device? How are profitable services delivered when the average revenue per unit (ARPU) for M2M is significantly lower than ARPU for a human-controlled device?
Understandably, this trend will have an increasing impact on people, industries and economies. For instance, intelligent sensors used in healthcare will play a vital role in how healthcare is delivered, while intelligent traffic management systems could ensure the smooth flow of goods through congested roadways. Examples include:
• Home, building and industrial automation and security
• Remote home and appliance monitoring
• Inventory control
• Connected car platforms
According to ABI Research, the Internet of Everything today comprises more than 10 billion wirelessly connected devices, with a 200 percent increase expected by 2020. While devices such as smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology continue to grow in popularity, over 60 percent of the devices connected to networks will in fact be Machine-to-Machine (M2M).
Cisco recently estimated during its Cisco Live! Conference that the global economic value created by the Internet of Everything to be $14.4 trillion. That’s almost on par with the entire United States’ annual GDP. This takes into account value from efficiency and productivity gains, improved asset utilization, enhanced customer experience and increased time-to-market for new products. Revenue associated with the M2M market, including revenue from devices, installation and services, is estimated to be $1.2 trillion by 2020, according to Machina Research, with connectivity services alone becoming close to a $10 billion dollar opportunity. Clearly there is a lot at stake for all involved including communication services providers who provide the vital lifeline for the Internet of Everything – the network itself.
With so much at stake, it begs the question, is the network ready for the Internet of Things, much less everything?
Robert (Bob) Metcalfe, the founder of 3Com and co-inventor of Ethernet technology, formulated a principle in the early 1980s stating that the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users. With this simple mathematical model, it is easy to image the exponential challenges networks will face when billions of “things” become connected.
The Internet of Everything will require an intelligent network, one which can automatically discover and connects devices along with the inter-relationships between these devices, including the nature of the data being carried. Not all data has the same value, competing with other data for network resources such as bandwidth, latency efficient routes, data storage and processing resources. By understanding these inter-relationships, networks can predict and proactively adjust network policies.
Supporting the performance demands of the Internet of Everything requires real time granular network analytics from thousands of points in the network, with fine granularity (i.e. not minutes, but seconds). Networks must be able to quickly identify, distinguish and adapt to different data including higher value data, latency and performance-sensitive data, then make rapid decisions on policy and optimization.
Opportunities for Communication Service Providers
Today, communication service providers primarily serve a traditional role in the Internet of Everything – providing connectivity. In the future, they have opportunities to play larger roles by leveraging the data generated by the diverse sources their networks interconnect. Communication service providers are in various stages of developing strategies. For instance, AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone and DTAG are some examples of operators developing business solutions in the Internet of Everything ecosystem.
Data analytics, or “big data,” will play a key role in the Internet of Everything. For instance, communication service providers can use intelligence from their networks to establish revenue sharing and partnerships with M2M developers, secure and manage M2M data, and offer services for M2M communications. The flip side is that the network itself has the potential to create a Big Data problem. The amount on information that must be collected, processed and analyzed in order to operate, maintain, scale and monetize networks connecting the Internet of Everything may become untenable.
The Internet of Everything requires new approaches to data acquisition, including micro-probing and selective packet inspection, with support for architectures which scale with Metcalf’s law to meet the price and performance needed to support the billions of connected devices. Selective data visibility will be crucial to quickly isolate the data of value and to deliver insight on a real time, granular basis to big data analysis tools. This selective visibility also improves the utilization of “back end” service provider infrastructure and tools such as operating and business support systems, data storage and processing devices.
In the future, if a refrigerator is going to send out a ping when the milk is running low, it will likely appear as a seamless text message on a smartphone. But it will require an intelligent orchestration on the network’s backend. The Internet of Everything is a futuristic concept, to be sure, that’s finally ready to break out and it will take communications providers, testing vendors and device makers all working together to create this ecosystem—all to remind me to pick up milk.
Rob Marson is a strategic marketing manager at JDSU, where he works in the test and measurement group at a leading global communications network and service enablement provider.