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Smart Cities Need Reliable IoT Connections

The Arab Spring movement, which grabbed the world’s attention in 2011, was made possible by the confluence of three key technologies: The Internet, smartphones and Twitter. No one could have predicted how these technologies would end up helping to support such a historical event, marking the beginning of a human behavioral change.

The Internet of Things (IoT) also shows how technologies -- such as the commoditization of RFID and TCP/IP hardware and Internet-ready wireless networks --  can come together in unpredictable ways to create something new. The IoT is beginning to support societal shifts just as big as the Internet and the smartphone have.

In fact, one manifestation of the IoT will soon be realized in a pilot program for a smart city, Milton Keynes, a large town in Buckinghamshire, England. Its council recently signed a contract with BT, a multinational telecommunications services company, to install a public network for the Internet of things. In a joint project with Cambridge-based startup Neul, BT is building 15 base stations across Milton Keynes that will be connected to the Internet and able to pick up signals from sensors in everything from household hardware such as washing machines and heaters, to car parking spaces.

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(Image: fill/Pixabay)

The Milton Keynes project represents the smart city of the future where connecting things with sensors to smart phones will change the Internet’s endpoints from human users to devices. IoT will cause the number of end points to explode into the billions and to tens of billions.

Connecting future cities to the IoT

So how will cities connect all the sensors -- air pollution monitors, parking spaces, lighting, water meters, garbage usage, etc. -- and their applications? First, to do so they will have to have a 99.9%+ reliable, but inexpensive network(s) -- networks capable of accurately collecting all the data that the IoT sensors will generate 24/7.

The potentially overlooked but important requirement for smart, future cities running well is reliable, ubiquitous connectivity. As we all know too well, WiFi isn’t available everywhere, public broadband is intermittent and often unreliable (especially in the U.S.), and private lines are expensive.

What will smart cities do? In order to run in a manner that will be key to a smart city functioning well they will have to utilize a mix of public broadband, private and low-power wireless, WiFi -- sometimes at the same time --  all reliably.

Simplifying WAN for smart cities

Simplifying WAN technology is now more important than ever as smart cities promise to bring a large and expanding public market for IoT services. Historically, the WAN has been complex to configure, especially if different types of circuits and different providers are utilized. IoT increases by orders of magnitude the number of endpoints and requires stitching together whatever circuits are available. It's impossible to build a single, dedicated network of this scale and ubiquitous reach.  Therefore, the ability to build a virtual network overlay on all these different physical networks is critical to connecting the IoT and thus creating a smart, future city.

Software-defined WAN technologies function as overlays for traditional WANs, creating a robust virtual network. They can automatically mix any number broadband/Internet links like cable, DSL and 4G/LTE from multiple ISPs.

Because SD-WAN technology can use any number of links simultaneously, it's able to provide the 99%+ reliability necessary to run IoT device applications, which will include collecting hundreds of zettabytes of data from a smart cities’ plethora of devices. Some devices will generate 1TB of data per day.  In fact,  the IoT is predicted to generate 403ZBs of data a year by 2018, up from 113.4ZBs in 2013.

Imagine using a 25 Mbps DSL link to augment a 50 Mbps cable connection. That’s a small example of SD-WAN technology mixing two links. SD-WAN technology can mix any combination of links to create an unlimited virtual network. And it’s an ever-expanding virtual network that would be able to provide reliable connections critical for IoT device applications that would make up a smart city, no matter how many connections.

Connecting millions of IoT endpoints

While some IoT applications may be on-premise, IoT will leverage cloud computing for consolidated analytics and data storage, as well as highly distributed access.A virtual network overlay on the Internet can connect the millions of IoT endpoints and gateways to a smart city’s applications all hosted in the cloud. Each sensor in any device will be able connect to IoT gateways and then to IoT applications and analytics. SD-WAN’s overlay makes configuring and monitoring such a massive network simple.

Digital parking spaces that signal when they are empty, garbage cans that send a message to rubbish collectors when they are overflowing, and house alarms that tell an owner when they’ve left a window ajar are only the beginning of what you may imagine in a smart, future city.

Now with a confluence of new technologies -- the cloud, SD-WAN and big data -- another new way of living life can begin for humans.