Net neutrality: Long-term implications loom for Internet of Things

The FCC's order to protect the open Internet, which passed with a 3-2 vote, carries with it implications for the Internet of Things (IoT), even though the immediate impact might not be felt for quite some time.

FierceWirelessTech reached out to IoT analysts and experts ahead of today's net neutrality vote at the FCC to get their takes on how the new rules may or may not affect this burgeoning space. While details are emerging, the overall consensus is there will be some impact, but like net neutrality itself, there are divergent views on how negative or positive the effects will be.

John Byrne, directing analyst of M2M and IoT at Infonetics Research, which is now part of IHS Inc., expects the rules will not have any immediate impact on IoT applications. 

However, as more and more IoT applications emerge, some of the provisions of Title II will need to be applied and probably tested in the courts to determine what might be considered "fair and reasonable" within the context of IoT, he told FierceWirelessTech.

The "bright line" rules--no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization--are primarily aimed at preventing telcos from favoring their own brands over OTT providers, or from charging a premium to OTTs to enable a better user experience, he noted.

"The new rules apply to 'broadband Internet access service'--is that or is that not IoT? In some cases it clearly is; connected home for example," Byrne said. Other cases are not so clear--what about home healthcare, which arguably has both a consumer and B2B play?

The new rules would ban "unjust or unreasonable discrimination," but what exactly that means has not been fully played out within the context of IoT, Byrne said. "It seems reasonable to assign priority access to some applications, e.g., sensitive health monitoring applications or public safety applications, but until those provisions have some more IoT-relevant parameters, this will be an area of uncertainty," he said.

Kore Wireless has been in the M2M business for many years. "I see both positives and negatives emerging in the IoT space as a result of net neutrality," said Kore CEO Alex Brisbourne. "On the plus side, we'll see things like simplified service deployment, growth in deployments of BYO-type applications, a drop in carriage costs--especially for high-bandwidth needs--to lower levels without bias, and we'll also avoid 'premium content' providers jeopardizing service quality levels."

On the negative side, "I have two main concerns," he said. "First, I believe net neutrality will prevent valid opportunities to use next-gen networks for critical services that validly would have priority route management (e.g., first responder, medical alert, etc.). This will continue to foster proprietary network build and need. Second, it will prevent the development of valid, 'multi-tier' commercial pricing models, where best efforts at a low price may be attractive."

Steve Hilton, president and co-founder of the IoT research firm MachNation, said his firm was not aware of any carriers that are prioritizing or de-prioritizing their enterprise IoT traffic. According to MachNation, enterprise IoT refers to the connection of non-traditional devices; e-readers, embedded SIMs in laptops and tablets are not included in its definition.

There are two issues to consider when discussing net neutrality and its impact on IoT connectivity, he said, and MachNation does not believe either issue creates a problem for IoT connectivity.

Regarding bandwidth and speed, there's no need to create IoT connectivity "fast-lanes" because enterprise IoT data traffic accounts for less than 0.5 percent of all data traffic worldwide, according to MachNation estimates. IoT solutions do not generate a lot of traffic compared to residential streaming video or other high bandwidth applications.

Most enterprise IoT solutions produce less than 25 megabytes of data a month. According to Cisco's 2014 Mobile Forecast Highlights, the average smartphone generated 1,753 megabytes of mobile data traffic per month in 2014, approximately 70 times the amount of data used by an IoT device.

As for service quality, some enterprise IoT data traffic needs high-quality connectivity, Hilton noted. In the enterprise world, carriers and enterprises often create service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure heightened levels of quality. In the fixed-line world, enterprises often buy dedicated lines (e.g., T-1, dedicated Ethernet, dedicated fiber, etc.) with associated SLAs for their voice and data traffic. These dedicated lines provide an enterprise with heightened quality of service (QoS), security and other guarantees.

In the mobile world, there are also ways to ensure quality-of-service using software that can seek out the best network, over-the-air programmable SIMs that can roam on multiple networks and service assurance software. These would all fall within the reasonable network management approaches discussed by the FCC, Hilton said.

New research commissioned by Verizon from ABI Research forecasts massive growth broadly in enterprise IoT, with the number of business-to-business IoT connections--more than quadrupling between 2014 and 2020, rising to an estimated 5.4 billion connections globally.

In the automotive industry, Verizon's telematics experts note that 14 car manufacturers account for 80 percent of the worldwide automotive market and all of them have a connected car strategy.  

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