Trying to Envision the Future through Eyes of Today

#MWC15 What an incredible week it was at Mobile World Congress this year! With 1,900+ exhibitors and around 100,000 attendees it is hard to focus on any single topic or find a common theme among all of us. But through the many pitches and discussions, we are able to bring every concept together to find a couple ideas that were repeated throughout the show.

Does IoT require a new Internet?

The new and trendy hot topic of the congress was Internet of Things (IoT). Everyone is talking about IoT and how it is going to change how service providers and consumers are managing their lives. It is estimated that there could be anywhere from 20 billion to 200 billion connected devices by 2020. Keeping in mind that reality often exceeds expectations in technology, this is a bit overwhelming.

IoT is still in the upwards phase of the hype cycle and it is hard to nail down any specific directions of framework around the IoT concept. There are companies talking about connected cars which will provide Internet access and functional capabilities within the vehicles. There are other companies looking to add more devices that the average human will carry around from connected health devices, to watches, to shoes. Everyone wants to be involved with the IoT movement, but few understand what is necessary for IoT to be successful.

Many conversations revolve around security for IoT. Some are talking about the security of the devices and their capabilities such as Internet-enabled home surveillance. Others are talking about the security and integrity of the data for healthcare devices that may be online such as pacemakers or CPAP machines.

But, IoT is in such an early stage of development, that it is hard to congeal a central vision or thought around what else we need to be thinking about to ensure a smooth and successful evolution. I had many discussions last week discussing an important issue that we may not be focusing our attention on, but is essential for IoT to become mature and accepted. The number of IoT devices connecting to the service provider network on a regular basis will be daunting and potentially overwhelm the mobile network’s infrastructure.

The influx of the large number of connected devices does not only impact the consumers and the various application providers, but there is a very direct impact to the mobile service providers beyond the data growth. These devices behave differently from human-enabled devices that are pseudo-randomly initiated, these devices will automatically send updates on a regular periodic interval. As the number of devices increases over time, the number of simultaneous connections that will be occurring at any given interval point will eventually overwhelm the mobile service provider’s connection and registration infrastructure.

This problem and others need to be investigated and addressed along with the potential security issues before we embrace the IoT vision of the future.

Virtualization is not a fad, it is a reality

Continuing its popularity from last year, virtualization, and specifically NFV, continues to be an extremely strong item of interest. Vendors are starting to progress beyond the first step of virtualization and are now asking each other how these virtualized functions will work together within the NFV architecture framework.

NFV is proving itself to be more than a passing fad as vendors and service providers work to establish functional multi-vendor NFV deployments. As scenarios are being built in the labs and trialed in the field, everyone is coming to the realization that the true benefit of NFV is not the CapEx or even the OpEx savings that was initially outlined over 2 ½ years ago.

The value of NFV is the delivery of cloud-like technologies to the service provider’s core network environment. It is the agility and elasticity - the bringing of services to bear efficiently, and the on-demand resourcing - through the abstraction and orchestration that delivers the value of the NFV architecture. There are more vendors discussing and demonstrating the requirements for the management and orchestration of NFV this year.

There is a consensus that the virtualization vision of the future is not one where the entire network is virtualized. It is unrealistic to believe that existing hardware will be tossed aside in lieu of virtualized functions in every use case. There are situations where proprietary vendor delivered hardware is still the best choice due to cost, performance, or functionality. The network of the future will be a hybrid architecture with both proprietary hardware and virtualized solutions.

What is important in this hybrid architecture is that the management and orchestration of this network be consistent and unified when working with physical and virtualized components. In an ideal scenario, the management and orchestration solution need not know whether a component is physical or virtualized. From a functional perspective, both versions of the service should look the same and be configured and managed in the same way.

Not so stodgy after all

Service providers are known as old school, slow moving, and taking a long time to adopt new technologies and concepts. This year, MWC has proven that this is not the case. NFV is less than three years old and we are already seeing mature architectures being built and tested. And while there have been Internet enabled devices almost since the development of the Internet, there is an explosive trend to bring IoT to bear in every way imaginable.

It will be interesting to see these technologies along with others continue to transform the mobile service provider networks as the world continues to get more interconnected. These life-changing and network-altering technologies are the beginning of a new voyage towards the visions of our interconnected future. With a positive perspective, I look forward to seeing what the networks of the future hold for us as a global community, but only after a voyage of my own to recover from this enormous and insightful event! Bon Voyage!

Published Mar 09, 2015
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