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February 28, 2018

The Internet of Things isn’t driven by devices but by the network

By GlobalData Financial

At Mobile World Congress this week, networking giant Cisco rolled out a new networking and device management platform for IoT practitioners that promises to enable the creation of extremely large-scale deployments without breaking the bank.

IoT at scale is a no-brainer. More devices equal more data. More data equals deeper business insights. But IoT at scale can be expensive in terms of delivering basic device interconnectivity and management costs.

This is especially true for companies seeking to optimise operations and explore data-driven business opportunities across an existing, sizeable base customer products – be those toasters, refrigerators, or mobile phones. Bandwidth is not cheap, nor is the back end processing power required to support a huge number of devices.

In response such problems of scale, Cisco has rolled out a new platform (Cisco Jasper Control Centre for NB-IoT) that optimises device communications over low-power wide area networks. Cisco’s Control Centre software has already garnered the interest of some sizeable telecom operators with more than 15,000 end customers. One operator in particular, China Unicom, intends to use the Cisco’s new platform to eventually scale to support over 100 million new IoT devices over the next 24 months.

That sort of scale will be crucial for market opportunities like smart cities and agriculture, where transformational business insights depend upon a real-time, holistic view of all instrumented devices. Solutions like Jasper Control Centre for NB-IoT serve as a reminder that the best solution to the performance/cost equation  lies in controlling both network bandwidth usage as well as device power requirements.

But that is not the whole story. IoT practitioners need to consider not only the medium (the network) but also the message…that is, the language spoken between devices and back end services — the protocol.

Right now IoT developers can pick and choose from among a plethora of protocols, some built to purpose like MQTT, others repurposed from more generic communication requirements as with HTTP, which is the very bedrock of the Internet itself.

However, not all IoT protocols are created equal. Regardless of network efficiency, some IoT protocols will simply cost more to operate than others, especially at scale. This disparity is most visible in the way public cloud platform providers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and SAP approach IoT protocols from a financial standpoint.

For most cloud IoT providers a protocol like MQTT affords a more refined approach to communications, which in turn allows a more refined approach to billing. On Google Cloud Platform, for instance, customers are billed for the entire HTTP payload within both device requests and responses. Customers using MQTT, however, are only billed for messages specific to actionable requests — not for messages used to simply maintain state or make or break a connection.

Therefore, IT buyers, especially those seeking to build an IoT solution at scale, need to check a number of boxes in researching an IoT platform partner. They need to understand how the partner will address device and networking issues as raised by Cisco. But they also need to carefully consider the language spoken across an IoT network, selecting a platform partner capable of tackling the task at hand in the most efficient manner.

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