The Role of Networking in Internet of Things (IoT) Enablement

The world is witnessing a paradigm shift towards Internet of Things (IoT), paving the way for a smarter, dynamic, and more connected world. IoT is an ecosystem of various web-enabled connected devices such as sensors, and machines enabling services that make people’s lives easier and operations smarter. The global market for IoT is growing rapidly in such a way that by the end of 2022, the total number of connected devices in the world will touch around 35 billion.

IoT plays a potential role in transforming every industry. It can enable a wide range of industry verticals such as Healthcare, Transportation, Automotive, Public Safety, Energy and Utilities, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
In the new era of wireless technologies, there exist some key enablers for IoT which becomes essential to realize the varied requirements of industry verticals. For example, one use case may demand ultra-low latency for real-time decision making whereas another may demand a higher data rate to support Ultra High Definition (UHD) live video streaming.

How Networking can enable IoT?
It is crucial to ensure that networks are positioned to support the diverse sets of IoT devices streaming massive amounts of data and help them function as desired. The connectivity, power, computing, manageability, and security of IoT deployments are all reliant on the networks, making it a crucial component in the realm of IoT.

Low Power Wireless Technologies
These technologies can connect different types of IoT devices enabling a wide range of applications. The present network configuration consists of a mix of cellular or licensed (for example: Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT), LTE-M) and unlicensed wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, SigFox, MYTHINGS, and LoRA. Every IoT application has its unique requirements to be met. Selecting the appropriate connectivity solution or wireless technology to meet the required bandwidth, Quality of Service (QoS), power usage, coverage, and security is a challenge. Cellular or licensed-based technologies are better in terms of QoS, reliability, and security. However, these technologies have a major issue in power consumption when compared to unlicensed technologies.

Role of 5G to Enable Connectivity, Computing, and Security
5G, known as “Network of Networks” or “Super Network”, will be a catalyst for realizing massive connectivity, higher data rate, and ultra-low latency IoT solutions. The 5G spectrum brings certain benefits to the IoT which are not available with legacy technologies such as 3G/4G LTE.

Making IoT accessible through 5G and Edge
The key driving force for 5G is its brand-new air interface - 5G New Radio (5G NR). Scalable air interface NR connects wide categories of devices and supports multiple bandwidths and spectrums. Currently, 3GPP Release 17 introduced Red Cap (Reduced Capability) NR which can address the market of Industrial IoT (IIoT) and smart IoT applications (smart wearables, medical equipment, AR/VR eyewear). Red Cap devices can enable various use cases in a cost and energy-efficient manner compared to the current NR device capabilities.

Innovative technology enablers in 5G help to meet the massive connectivity, ultra-reliability, low latency, and higher speed requirements of diverse use cases. A combination of Software Defined Networking (SDN), Edge computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Network Slicing, and Private Networks or Non-Public Networks (NPN) can underpin the vision of a massive IoT network.

To handle the massive amount of data generated from these diverse sets of IoT devices, 5G adopts the key technology enabler Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). MEC enables the real-time processing of these huge data close to the network edge from where the data is generated. This enhances the performance and QoS by reducing the end-to-end network latency. SDN can enable unified end-to-end orchestration of IoT devices realizing rapid and automated reconfiguration of the devices. With SDN principles, Network Slicing meets the needs of various IoT applications in terms of latency and data rate. 3GPP release 16 introduces NPN which can be deployed with dedicated spectrum options (licensed, unlicensed, and shared spectrum) inclusive of dedicated IoT frequency bands to enable the unique requirements of various IoT applications in industry verticals.

IoT and Edge Security
The massive number of IoT devices streaming the data to the network, however, also bring security challenges to the edge. It is imperative to secure the network, especially at the edge as these devices connect to the network through gateways. As IoT devices have certain limitations in terms of memory, power, and bandwidth, these devices cannot host in-built security modules, making them more prone to vulnerabilities. A comprehensive security strategy should be designed utilizing the capabilities of MEC and AI/ML analytics. MEC can process the huge amount of data locally providing analytics that help in automated security monitoring with AI/ML techniques.

The network architecture - Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) - is the future of IoT security. SASE integrates networking and security monitoring functions into a unified cloud-native platform. In the SASE framework, security monitoring is placed close to the devices from where the data originates. SASE also enforces certain policies in distributed Point of Presence (PoP) or Edge data centers to grant access based on the identity of the connected IoT devices.

In a Nutshell
The design of IoT networks is impacted by the type of networking technologies chosen at the edge. It is necessary to understand the specific requirements of IoT applications to select the best connectivity solutions. With the evolution of IoT, the network solutions at the edge become more flexible, agile, and scalable, driving the IoT wave further ahead.