Feature Story

Why the Internet of Everything Won't Work Without Wireless

by Jason Deign

The sheer volume of connected devices that could be involved in the Internet of Everything means most connections could only take place over a wireless LAN.

Silent, invisible… and vital. That just about sums up wireless networks as far as the Internet of Everything (IoE) is concerned. Because there is simply no way you could run wires to the 50 billion or so smart devices expected to make up the IoE by 2020.

In fact, ABI Research predicts 40.9 billion, or more than 80 percent, of electronic devices could rely on wireless connectivity, up from 16 billion in 2016.

ABI principal analyst Aapo Markkanen says: "If we look at this year's installed base, smartphones, PCs, and other ‘hub' devices represent still 44 percent of the active total, but by end-2020 their share is set to drop to 32 percent.

"In other words, 75 percent of the growth between today and the end of the decade will come from non-hub devices: sensor nodes and accessories."

Many of these devices might be in homes, with Accenture Interactive's Acquity Group saying 69 percent of consumers plan to buy an IoE-ready gadget such as a smart thermostat or security camera in the next five years.

There could also be as many as 100 million Internet-connected lamps and light bulbs worldwide, and 152 million connected cars.

Add this to a veritable tidal wave of data from mobile devices, where Cisco says traffic is expected to surpass 15 exabytes per month by 2018, and you begin to wonder how wireless infrastructures can keep up. Fortunately, though, plenty of innovations are in hand.

They include advances in the two main forms of wireless connectivity, mobile and Wi-Fi, along with a host of minor technologies that can fill in as and when needed.

The mobile industry is already seeing the widespread rollout of fourth-generation (4G) networks, predominantly based on Long Term Evolution Advanced (LTE) technology. More than half of mobile traffic might be travelling over 4G by 2018, the Cisco Visual Networking Index says.

Wi-Fi is evolving, too. This year saw the emergence of a standard called 802.11ac, which essentially gives wireless networks the same capabilities as Gigabit Ethernet.

Among several features that make 802.11ac great for IoE is the fact that it can support multiuser multiple-input and multiple-output, which allows an access point to communicate simultaneously with a number of devices over a single frequency spectrum.

And while mobile and Wi-Fi networks can take care of most IoE connectivity, a number of lesser technologies are available for infill. Some of these, such as Bluetooth or ZigBee, are already relatively well established. Others are emerging.

In parts of Europe, for example, Abertis Telecom is building networks based on Low-Power, Wide Area (LPWA) technology.

According to Abertis strategic marketing manager Carlos Yubero, LPWA requires three hundred times less energy than regular GSM mobile communications, and has a tenth of the TCO because councils do not need to buy the ultra narrowband spectrum it uses.

Furthermore, Yubero told attendees at this year's Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona: "If we are talking about billions of devices, the less you consume the better for the planet."

Exactly how these network technologies can support the IoE is already becoming evident from some of the smart+connected community experiments underway around the world. Taiwan, for example, has done away with traditional booths for money collection along its toll roads.

Instead, wireless technologies underpin a system whereby cameras on 319 gantries across the country capture data from around 6 million license plates and process about 20 million payments automatically per day, without causing a break in the traffic. 

Even with advances in the technology, though, the vast amounts of data coming off the IoE means an increasing amount of processing should ideally take place at the network edge to relieve the load on core infrastructures. That is beginning to happen, too.

In Mexico City, for example, a citywide surveillance system installed by Thales Group and Telmex includes audio sensors that can respond to a gunshot by focusing nearby cameras on the source of the sound, without any need for operator intervention.

The system, which also incorporates features such as automatic license-plate recognition, has helped reduce criminality in Mexico City by more than 32 percent since 2009.

"Our technology has made Mexico City more safe, more attractive, and more resilient," said Sebastien Sabatier, strategy and marketing manager at Thales, during the Smart City Expo.  

Expect more life-enhancing projects like this to be brought to you soon, courtesy of the wireless technologies underpinning the IoE.

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