The Internet of Things: don’t forget the network!

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Marc Jadoul, Strategic Marketing Director at Alcatel-Lucent, stresses the importance of the network in the booming Internet of Things industry. 

Earlier this year I visited the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and whether I was on a network vendor’s, an IT vendor’s or a device vendor’s booth, there was always this three letter acronym around: the I-O-T. No wonder that the Internet of Things topped the latest edition of Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

As could be expected, MWC media focus was mainly on devices and applications. They highlighted innovative gadgets such as the smart whiskey bottle and the connected suitcase. But what would all these shiny new things do without a network?

The network can “make or break” the Internet of Things – for all stakeholders. It has to be understood that the IoT revolution will only succeed when it’s supported by a machine-to-machine (M2M) capable network that allows scalable deployment, secure delivery, cost-effective operations, and fast time to market of new devices and applications.


Basically, in an IoT network there are 2 opposite-directioned data flows:

  • A device-outbound stream, through which sensor and device data are delivered to the network, the data center and the respective applications.
  • A device-inbound flow via which actuation, control and management information is delivered to M2M devices and gateways.

In most cases, the device-to-application data will far outweigh the application-to-device traffic. But at times, there will be significant throughput in the latter direction, too. In the upstream direction, the traffic may be very application specific ― sometimes the flow will be continuous and sometimes bursty. Traffic modeling by Bell Labs has revealed that M2M applications may consume up to 67% of computing resources in the radio network controller. Access channel capacity does not appear to pose a problem, nor does data volume.


Whatever source they come from, IoT growth figures are impressive. The time is now for anticipating massive take-up of devices, applications, traffic, and profile and usage data.

This can only be achieved through a network and platform infrastructure that is scalable by design. A network that includes overload protection mechanisms at the RAN and in the core network, combined with application-level control to enable more efficient use of network resources.

As many of the capabilities will be implemented in the cloud, SDN/NFV-based networks will provide carriers and enterprises with the necessary means to cope with and manage the growing number of devices and applications, and the IP traffic they generate.


As some devices may deeply be embedded in 3rd party infrastructure (such as industrial equipment, transportation containers, and cars) and may have no registered owner at all, remote management capabilities become extremely important.

The adoption of device management and service automation capabilities will also help the M2M service providers accelerate device and application onboarding while reducing operating costs. These capabilities streamline tasks such as remote device activation and bootstrapping, device configuration, troubleshooting, firmware upgrades, and application lifecycle management.


The legacy M2M market has been fragmented by divergent protocols and custom applications. This fragmentation makes it difficult to handle devices consistently and develop solutions that can apply to more than one vertical market.

M2M service providers need to stop deploying separate stovepipes for different applications, and work towards an “any device, any app, any network” model. An end-to-end network architecture with a common set of service capabilities, standardized interfaces and open APIs should help them to reduce investments, facilitate partnerships, and speed up time-to-market.

Deployment of a horizontal M2M control and management platform will allow them to abstract devices and applications from the underlying access networks and technologies, which will in turn result in reduced development effort, lower operational expenses, and a better customer experience.

Flexible growth

Cloud technologies such as software-defined networks (SDN), network function virtualization (NFV), and datacenter hosted services will facilitate initial deployment and enable smooth growth of IoT applications. SDN will help transmit and process the data generated by an explosive number of IoT endpoints without further putting the network under pressure, while capabilities such as service chaining, dynamic load management, and bandwidth-on-demand will make service providers more agile.

Infrastructure virtualization is a means to derisk IoT investments, to support innovation, and to keep operational expenses low. Recent business modeling by Bell Labs has shown that virtualization of the enhanced packed core may lead to up to 40% savings in total cost of ownership (TCO) for M2M services.

Big data capability

BI Intelligence forecasts that 40,000 Exabytes of data will generated globally by 2020. When M2M platforms open up their data, new applications can leverage intelligence in objects and in the cloud. Huge amounts of data points may be correlated and aggregated into analytics, making networks and applications smarter and giving users full control over different domains such as security, multi modal transportation, retail, e-government, social statistics, environmental measurements, and senior or children assistance services.

The generation of these analytics and their exploitation needs big data enabled IT infrastructure. And big data applications require a superior network: backhaul for all connected objects, open data center interconnections, a cloud distributed architecture, etc.


In a world where security and privacy are playing a more and more prominent role, functions such as authentication, authorization, encryption, and data protection score high on the IoT checklist.

According to ABI Research, “Most M2M applications are lacking the basic security requirements that have been a de-facto standard for information and communication technologies elsewhere. If not addressed sooner, this weak link could throttle the successful adoption of M2M in healthcare, industrial installations, and consumer homes.”

Security will have to be supported by the network cloud, and not only by the devices. Data centers will need to ensure that information is available at all times, and that the big data as well as the connections over which they are transported are protected against loss and unauthorized access. As communication service providers are already seen as “trusted partners”, there is an opportunity for them to build on this relationship in the development and the commercialization of IoT services.


In order to achieve the “any device, any app, any network” objective mentioned above, devices and applications need to get abstraction from underlying access networks and technologies. This model can only work when there is maximal interoperability between devices, platforms, data formats, protocols and applications.

Furthermore, because many IoT devices are often characterized by very small power, memory, and processor footprints, communication and management protocols have to be simple and lightweight.

The development and adoption of global standards, like the specifications developed by oneM2M, will harmonize device and application interactions, simplify integration and create economies of scale. Standardization will also make it easier for individual stakeholders to partner and interwork with each other’s components, networks and services, and as such extend IOT partnering choices and business opportunities.


Marc JadoulMarc Jadoul is Strategic Marketing Director, Customer and Market Insight, in Alcatel-Lucent. Marc has been observing the M2M market for several years, and has authored presentations, articles and blog posts about the IoT and smart cities. Marc holds a Masters Degree in Computer Science from the Free University of Brussels, and is based in Antwerp, Belgium. A passionate B2B storyteller, blogger, author or co-author of more than 120 papers, magazine articles and conference presentations, he is a frequent speaker and panelist at industry events.


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