Massive hype to massive IoT
I've argued before that the IoT is more than hype. In fact, there is no question today that the IoT has gone mainstream.
A few application examples include asset tracking, advanced medical and sports wearables, both consumer and professional, and smart home. And the functionality and intelligence, in other words the usefulness, of all IoT applications are being further enhanced by machine learning (ML) and edge processing powered by AI in the cloud. There is no question that the IoT has finally arrived and is here to stay. The question is now: where is it going next?
- Read more: Where’s the hype in IoT now?
The future of IoT is massive
I regard the IoT as like a luxury that if you've never had you don't miss. But if you've ever experienced its benefits, you can’t forget them. Achieving 10 times more with 10 times less by doing it 10x smarter is very compelling. And that means like other successful platform technologies—for example, cellular—demand for what the IoT does best will boom massively in the years and decades ahead.
That requires the network to expand. And this scaling will be important to the point of existential need if both public and commercial organizations are to reach sustainability by delivering more with less.
Because the truth is we’re not going to save the planet and conserve and protect vital scarce resources, or combat climate change, or feed the world, without the IoT. That means the IoT at the massive scale cannot arrive soon enough.
What's been holding massive IoT back?
The only reason massive IoT hasn't truly arrived yet is that it wasn't technologically or commercially viable before now for massive machine-to-machine (M2M) type communication.
This scale isn't thousands of devices. It's millions. It's billions. And it's going to one day be trillions of connected IoT sensors and device 'things' at installation densities of a million devices per square kilometer.
This presents a massive wireless engineering challenge. Especially given that the typical IoT 'thing' will be battery-powered and so have relatively limited power and computing capabilities. Moreover, the physical wireless network and its operational optimization must be ‘off-the-scale’ better compared to anything that has gone before.
Although there have been admirable proprietary attempts to solve this problem, I can't see a long-term future for these. If a business or government organization is going to invest millions if not billions of dollars in any technology, they will need to know that technology is going to be viable not just years but decades from now.
Historically, the only way the tech and wireless communication sector has managed to deliver such longevity is via standards that encourage large mutivendor ecosystems. It’s simply too risky to the point of reckless to rely only on only one vendor to supply and support a technology upon which you are vitally reliant.
This is why I believe the future of massive IoT is now in the hands of two complementary 5G standard wireless IoT technologies that were built from day one to support massive IoT low power wide area (LPWA) networks: cellular IoT and DECT NR+.
- Read more: The next step for M2M communications
Cellular IoT is the IoT-targeted LPWAN version of cellular wireless technology. From 4G, and now in 5G, this comes in two flavors: LTE for Machine-Type Communications (LTE-M) and Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT).
Both LTE-M and NB-IoT offer the same legendary reliability and security benefits of cellular worldwide. But with power consumption levels that support multi-year operation from small, lightweight batteries that make traditional mobile and smartphone batteries look huge in energy capacity comparison terms. Cellular IoT offers global geographical coverage in or near to every population center and was designed for massive IoT scaling from the ground up.
This means almost any ‘thing’ can now be connected to the world’s cellular networks without a gateway. In industrial IoT, for example, this might mean the ability to monitor the location and contents of shipping containers and key industrial assets, or how well plant machinery is operating and the probability of failure (from maybe tell-tale changes in vibration, for example).
However, having access to a ubiquitous, secure, reliable, global network that already exists doesn’t come free. And nor would you want it to be free for it to support a commercially viable and self-sustaining free market in the long-term.
What underpins the security and reliability is that your device must be certified for operation on the network. And the data you send will have to be sent via an established carrier. All that means cost and a certain degree of complexity, although both are falling all the time. This is why I believe cellular IoT will become a mainstay of massive IoT in the future whenever an application requires global connectivity.
- Read more: What is Cellular IoT?
- Read more: Cellular IoT solutions growth are among tech trends for 2023
While 4G provided a platform for cellular IoT, 5G is the first radio standard defined with truly massive IoT in mind. DECT New Radio (NR)+ (originally called 'DECT-2020 NR') is the world's first non-cellular wireless technology to become a full 5G standard.
In my opinion, DECT NR+ fills the gap in the LPWAN market that proprietary alternatives have previously been the only ones to address. Namely: if you don't require global operation and instead only need to operate within a geographically-defined area, then enterprise IoT and public customers can now build their own ‘private’ network that supports low-cost data. Example use cases include asset tracking, smart city, and smart energy.
DECT NR+’s 1.9 GHz operating frequency is a global, license-free spectrum allocation (with the current exception of Japan, India, and China). It forms a single, secure, and reliable radio standard that is future-proofed and scalable. Moreover, because it is license free, DECT NR+ incurs no data charges, making it cheaper to run than its licensed equivalents.
With DECT NR+ users can deploy their own private networks. Private networks that use some of the proven technology that underpins the highly secure and ultra reliable global cellular infrastructure. As such, the technology promises to democratize 5G wireless by allowing massive IoT deployments with all the benefits of cellular, but at a much lower cost.
- Read more: What is DECT-2020 New Radio (NR), and how big a deal is it?
- Read more: Could DECT NR+ democratize massive IoT in 5G?
Managing the massive
I predict that over the next decade hundred-million-unit-plus IoT deployments will become routine across the globe. Every commercial and public organization in the world will need to deliver to this 10 times more with 10 times less for them and the planet to survive. Preventable waste and inefficiency will have to become fragments of a pre-massive IoT past.
To me that means massive IoT will become an almost ‘no choice’ option in countless applications in hundreds if not thousands of industries and markets over the coming decade.
Massive IoT is going to completely transform how we live, work, and play in ways unimaginable to us today. And in doing so make the world a safer, greener, healthier, and ultimately better place to live.