IoT and the Fiber Imperative

By: Kevin Morgan

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT) are changing the way we live, work, and play. They are creating efficiencies in how packages are routed, how manufacturing plants are operated and even how we ensure the milk in the refrigerator is fresh. While legacy broadband networks were built to connect individual users to the Internet, the IoT and IIoT will require hundreds or thousands of connections per site. 

Fortunately, these new demands for connections and the bandwidth associated with these connections are best satisfied using all-fiber networks. The key to all of this is reliability.  Let’s explore.

Grains of Sand

IoT and IIoT are suffering a bit from the classic cart-before-the-horse analogy. When consumers see ads where someone rushes home and asks Alexa to preheat the oven or check to see if there is milk in the refrigerator, they think “wow, wouldn’t my life be better if I had that!” When the next ad comes on, showing a dad away on vacation with his family remotely locking the doors at home because the kids forgot, you feel that purchasing that type of system will make you more secure. It’s the classic “peace of mind” advertising play that is intended to drive a purchase decision.

What these creatively crafted advertisements don’t portray is the role that the network plays in how these IoT services perform. Each of these services requires bandwidth. Each IoT device sends some small amount of data, which on its own doesn’t have much of an impact on the home network. But of course, IoT is only a small part today of what is pushing the need and demand for more bandwidth. Looking at the impact of each of these devices in isolation is a bit like looking at a glass full of sand and focusing on each grain.

Gartner has estimated that the average family home will contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022, while Cisco estimates that the number of connected devices on the Internet will exceed 50 billion by 2020. By 2022, one trillion networked sensors will be embedded in the world around us, with up to 45 trillion in 20 years.

Beaches of Sand

Let’s shift to looking at the connected home specifically. Imagine that every device—from thermostats to alarms and even the locks on the door—provides a status update. The multiple streams of data being produced and processed every second of every day dramatically increase, with televisions, computers and traditional connected devices outnumbered as other features of the home come online. While the impacts of the smart home may seem small, the attractiveness of connected devices isn’t solely about convenience. For example, alerts from systems such as fire or intruder alarms are time-sensitive and require information to be delivered immediately.  IoT-enabled locks that can be opened remotely to let in deliveries or tradesmen will have to work seamlessly, or IoT would open the door (quite literally) to possible security issues. In all scenarios, reliable connectivity must be a priority for the benefits of IoT to be realized.

This necessity, combined with increasing needs for 4K streaming, video conferencing, and cloud-based storage, really drives the need for higher bandwidth capabilities. Of course, 4K isn’t the limit, as we’re already seeing 8K and higher monitors enter the market. So, combine all these little grains of sand with more bandwidth-intensive applications like online gaming, video streaming and storage, and you get the feeling that you’re not looking at a simple jar, but instead an entire beach of sand that needs to be addressed.

As mentioned earlier, IoT devices are always generating data and traffic. IDC predicts that by 2025, the global level of data will rise to 163 zettabytes or one trillion GBs, partially due to the replacement of analog devices by IoT devices. By 2025, people will interact with IoT devices an average of 4,800 times per day. That’s a staggering figure, given that most IoT devices are communicating not only with people but also with other devices in the home and across the network. 

Network Demands

Stated simply, the massive amount of data produced by IoT will require more bandwidth. It’s an imperative that the industry must address or risk enabling IoT devices to be deployed into homes that have networks that can’t support them. Hence the earlier cart-before-the-horse analogy. If network operators don’t address this issue now, they risk creating an environment where customers are paying for devices that their networks can’t ultimately support. Customers are paying a premium for these IoT-enabled devices and aren’t thinking about the capacity of their home networks. 

In the new IoT and IIoT world, traditional broadband networks will soon develop bottlenecks that lead to customer frustration, and increase customer support calls, truck rolls and service costs. This is a scenario that can quickly cast the operator in the role of the villain. If the operator wants to be the hero instead, fiber can be a superpower to exceed expectations and even upsell additional high-value services. Fiber to the Home (FTTH) is the watershed event for network operators looking to deliver higher-value services on top of the connectivity they also (or already) deliver. It ensures that the services delivered can scale as needs change and demand for even more bandwidth increases, which it inevitably will. It provides the foundation on which an entirely new service ecosystem can be delivered and monetized.


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