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IoT wireless networks: What's it really take to run them?

It's easy to get dazzled by Internet of Things use cases, but don't forget the network. According to IT pros who've adopted IoT, wireless infrastructure needs careful attention.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Network Evolution: Without robust networks, innovative IoT use cases go nowhere:

Two words come to mind when Ted Ross considers what a successful implementation of Internet of Things technologies looks like: "managed chaos."

"The Internet of Things is a very powerful concept," says Ross, chief information officer for the city of Los Angeles, where wireless sensors monitor over a quarter-million objects in the city. "It's exciting. I think if we approach this in an intelligent fashion, we can reap many benefits. But if you don't have a strategy around it, it becomes unmanaged chaos."

A large part of that strategy is the enterprise networks that support the Internet of Things (IoT). Because even if those hundreds or thousands of wireless sensors communicate via Bluetooth or other standards, odds are that the data they transmit will need to traverse an IP network. That means that when network engineers are designing their approach to IoT, wireless network design and a long-term strategy should be at the forefront, says Andre Kindness, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"The engineer has to approach it as looking out a few years at what wireless technology will be adopted," he says. "You can't just roll out Wi-Fi and that's it. You need to design the wireless environment for what you think will happen in your specific industry in the next five years."

Network engineers and other experts agree a sound strategy starts with talking to business departments to figure out ways that IoT can improve business practices and create efficiencies to save time and money.

Those conversations evidently aren’t happening often enough, though. Only 45% of networking pros have regular conversations with other departments in their companies -- or even other disciplines within IT -- about their network needs, according to Forrester's "Global Business Technographics Networks and Telecommunications Survey, 2015."

At the very least, experts give this piece of advice for IoT wireless networks: Think big.

"When in doubt, design for at least 10 times the number of devices connecting now," Kindness says.

What else does it take to run an IoT wireless network in the real world? Four organizations that have immersed themselves in it -- the city of Boulder, Boston Medical Center, the city of Los Angeles and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority -- share their experiences.

Read more from this series: IoT networks

City of Boulder: Designing networks for IoT sensors can be a learning process

Boston Medical Center: Internet of Things in healthcare keeps patients healthy, safe

City of Los Angeles: An Internet of Things network ready for presidents and earthquakes

Columbus Regional Airport Authority: Getting IoT ready for takeoff 

Next Steps

What impact will IoT services have on the network?

Take a look at three IoT networks in the wild

The IoT migration requires specialized networks

This was last published in April 2016

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