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Could it Be LTE? Identifying a Standard for the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) a buzzworthy phrase that has caught on and at first it seemed just that – talk. Now we’re in a position where we have smart lightbulbs, virtual assistants, self-regulating home heating and cooling systems…and the ‘things’ that make up the IoT are becoming more self-aware (if you believe in the Terminator approach). It’s proving far closer to reality than anyone previously thought. 

For this reality there are far-reaching implications when it comes to the applicability of IoT technology as it impacts every major industry – from automotive and finance, to energy and retail. But with each application comes another challenge, how do we define a standard that forms an ecosystem allowing all IoT solutions to work seamlessly and in each industry and application in the manner they were meant to?

We face a real problem when it comes to the exciting buzzworthy acronym of IoT. Yet with no central IoT standards or real oversight over development, the nearly five billion smart devices Gartner estimates will be in use by the end of this year are spread across a dizzying array of standards and protocols. IoT requires extensive technology to work – from wireless communications, to data security, to interoperability with other devices – so it’s a daunting task to apply a single standard to a device (much less the integration of the entire IoT ecosystem!). 

Start by Looking at the DNA of IoT

Let’s first break down IoT to its three core components to frame up the challenges with an IoT standard. I like to call them the DNA of IoT:

  • Devices - the connected ‘things’ that relay data to/from each other
  • Network - the internet, which provides the medium for these devices to communicate
  • Applications - the ‘enablers’ that direct workloads for predicted outcomes

In line with the overall IT industry, the majority of the value derived is designed and delivered at the software application layer, which means this is where most of the innovations and profits lie. On the other hand, you also have the underlying (network) hardware and devices, which are things like sensors, servers, routers, transmitters and personal devices. And while there’s no disputing that the latter are all vital components, they’re continuously commoditized with similar features in an endless but all too familiar race to the bottom of the market. There’s also no single body or organization regulating the manufacturing industry, so they aren’t building next generation solutions in a manner that complies with any security or IoT standards.

Why is this important? Because it highlights the different priorities and levels of innovation within the IoT ecosystem.

The Case for LTE: the Missing Link

So now that all of the IoT problems are out in the open, let’s get to a solution. There are a number of technologies to potentially standardize on – everything from WiFi and Zigbee, to LPWAN and Cellular. However, I believe there’s one that provides the most practical approach with the lowest barriers and fastest time to market: Long-Term Evolution (LTE).

LTE is the most prevalent wireless network option in the US today and providers are already in the process of building out specific bands within LTE to better service IoT devices. This means that new IoT devices can be on-boarded to an LTE network as quickly as they are developed, which provides the needed flexibility to accommodate IoT devices regardless of type or industry.

On top of that, by being built on a solid foundation of widely-available LTE, IoT devices also benefit from reduced device and network complexity, increased coverage for hard-to-reach IoT devices, multi-year battery life with power save modes and efficient signaling, as well as higher node density. And as wide-area IoT deployments pick-up, these new standards provide coexistence and compatibility with current LTE services, global scalability, increased quality of service, and end-to-end security and authentication features.

So regardless of how you view, use, or define IoT, the net-net is that there needs to be an ongoing conversation about truly setting a standard and my bet is on LTE. It’s already becoming widely adopted and offers the most resiliency and efficiency when it comes to the IoT - so I say, let’s party on.

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Comments

  • So how increased was the LTE coverage exactly? And how is it today?

    https://altair-semi.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Coverage-Analysis-of-LTE-CAT-M1-White-Paper.pdf
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