IoT in the enterprise is revolutionizing many important functions–from security; to energy management; to specialized elements of manufacturing, distribution, automation, monitoring, process control and many other things. But the internet of things itself isn’t really all that new; it’s essentially a catch-all term for the machine-to-machine (M2M), sensor, telemetry and related computing and communications functions that have been hard at work in organizations and beyond for decades. What is new is that IoT unifies all of these capabilities under the IP-protocol umbrella, thus easing application specification, design, implementation, deployment, scaling, and integration with other IT functions. The internet itself, after all, provisions the lowest common denominator for all successful network-based IT capabilities today–human-in-the-loop or not–and its capabilities and benefits are far-reaching indeed. After all, what network function isn’t IP-based today?
This unified reality opens the door to enhanced opportunities for IoT in the enterprise, not just for in-building and other fixed settings, but in mobile applications as well. Mobility, of course, has seen its own dramatic success–again, over the past few decades–thanks to advances in mobile devices, dramatically more functional and manageable wireless networks, and the fundamental demand generated by users who want and need to be productive independent of their location at any given moment in time. Merging IoT and mobility, then, is already a major opportunity for product and service vendors and end-user organizations alike.
The first step in rolling out a mobile IoT application is the same as for the deployment of any other organizational IT function or service: a definition of what information is involved, why the application is needed and what it will do, who will use it and for what purposes, how the information involved will be managed and secured, an analysis of costs and return on investment, and an examination of operations and support details. We always recommend that a checklist of all required functionality, dependencies, data interrelationships, and security and other concerns must be complete before any development, procurement or deployment activities are undertaken. (This is true, of course, for all applications, not just those involving IoT.)
Assuming that all is well with the above and that a commitment to deploy has been made, a consideration of the technical details is next. IoT, being based on IP, enables a high degree of freedom when selecting endpoint functionality, which includes radios (since we’re concerned with mobile applications here, the physical layer will clearly be wireless), sensors, and local processing, memory and storage as may be required.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, there are numerous radio systems and Layer-2 protocols already hard at work in IoT applications. We expect many of these–such as Bluetooth EDR and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and Z-Wave to survive. With that said, the universal integration of Wi-Fi into handsets, and, we believe, a rapidly increasing number of devices purpose-built for IoT also based on Wi-Fi means that Wi-Fi will eventually dominate the IoT space. Wi-Fi also already makes broad use of IP, whereas most of the other IoT radio contenders are not IP-to-the-edge and require gateway functionality.
This emphasis on Wi-Fi is very good news indeed for organizations everywhere. Most importantly, IoT applications, mobile or not, can depend upon the availability of a Wi-Fi network already operational in organizational settings. Being able to leverage this resource, including its robust security and even broadband-level performance when required (think image recognition in automated video surveillance applications, for example), is key to minimizing cost-to-solution, handling the volumes of IoT traffic that will increase over time, and simplifying scalability for both geographic coverage and capacity as is also usually required over time. And, of course, demand for capacity also only grows, and this will be true even with IoT–all those sensors and actuators may not consume much bandwidth on an individual basis, but collectively the resulting demand requires the attention of IT management (and perhaps even more backhaul capacity as well).
Similarly, leveraging the essentially ubiquitous handset for IoT applications is another key opportunity for mobile IoT. A handset can be the second factor in a two-factor authentication scheme used for network access, as well as for access to a physical facility. Looking deeper, healthcare IoT applications, for example, will increasingly monitor patients anywhere and in real time, and the handset can serve as a bridge between BLE- or Wi-Fi-equipped healthcare-specific sensors and controls–even those implanted in the body. Cloud-based services accessed by bridging between Wi-Fi and a cellular (wide-area and, again, all-IP) connection within the handset complete the picture. This paradigm can also be broadly applied to many other mobile IoT applications.
All of this sounds easy and convenient, but, yes, the related software-development and operations-management tasks can be challenging. These will become easier with the evolution of the tools involved and as those provisioning IoT-based services move up the experience curve. And the sheer magnitude of the economic opportunity in play here is already motivating giants like Verizon, Cisco and Intel to get into the IoT-in-the-enterprise game. We’ll see many service providers, software firms and systems integrators vying to provide the most robust and easiest-to-use mobile IoT tools, management facilities, and entire end-to-end solutions, given the objectives of bounded costs, five-nines availability and reliability, and, of course, happy and productive end users. Exciting times, indeed, and, again, we’re just and getting started with the mobile internet of Things.