As the Internet of Things goes mainstream, IT needs to consider the potential effects of thousands of new devices...
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connecting to the Wi-Fi network.
With many organizations already planning upgrades to their network infrastructure, driven by the availability and benefits of 802.11ac technology, now is an opportune time to plan for what might be a major new source of traffic.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be one of the hottest IT trends for 2015, but it has been around in emergent forms for many years, with products and services available under the banners of telemetry, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and automation. But what's particularly exciting today is the Internet part of IoT. Adding IP-based networking to autonomous devices builds on the rich legacy that is the Internet, and it adds possibilities for new functionality well beyond the proprietary products that to this point have dominated the telemetry/M2M/automation space.
And while IoT is frequently associated with a broad range of consumer-grade applications, primarily in healthcare and residential automation, enterprises are going to find it in their operations at an accelerating rate.
Wi-Fi's benefits for enterprise IoT networking
At this point, many IoT devices rely on such wireless technologies as Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee and Z-Wave, but there's no single radio technology that dominates the market. Expect Wi-Fi to assume that role going forward, for a number of very good reasons:
Taking advantage of existing infrastructure: Most organizations already have a Wi-Fi infrastructure covering extensive areas of real estate. Adding more clients and applications is already a day-to-day activity, and given that IoT-based applications often involve infrequent transmissions and/or limited amounts of data, the additional load is unlikely to be much of a concern in most cases. Also note that many enterprise IoT applications will simply be new applications running on smartphones and similar devices that are already connected to the Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi offers major advantages in capacity, coverage and ease of use.
Scalability: Increasing Wi-Fi coverage and capacity will be required for some time. In the near term, 802.11ac largely addresses this need. Upgrades are now well under way in many shops; IoT devices based on 802.11ac will increasingly appear in the market, and backwards compatibility with 802.11n will pick up any slackers.
But keep in mind that the IEEE standards folks are also hard at work on 802.11ah, which extends the standard to the sub-1-GHz spectrum, offering improved propagation (and thus range) for low-bandwidth applications. And the 802.11ad standard has already unlocked the vast amount of spectrum at 60 GHz, which offers the potential for virtually unlimited capacity (almost 7 Gbps) with somewhat restricted range. Wi-Fi offers access to more spectrum, the basic commodity essential to wireless success, than any other radio technology.
Security: Wi-Fi has perhaps the most robust security available in any wireless technology today, and Wi-Fi chipsets provide transparent implementations. Security is vital in any networking application, and enterprise IoT networking is certainly no exception here.
Low-cost, low-power, and small-form-factor implementations, including a wide variety of ready-to-go Wi-Fi modules, are also available today. And while IoT is frequently thought of in terms of low demand, only Wi-Fi offers both maximum capacity and high throughput, should these ever become requirements -- which, of course, they will in an increase number of cases going forward.
A number of Wi-Fi-based IoT products are available today, and many more will arrive in the near future. The good news is that network operations managers and staff need worry only about scale, rather than about having to learn about and support yet another radio technology.