In-Depth: The Internet of Things

Feb. 3, 2020
Q&A with a veteran cabling expert Jon Fitz of Prysmian on what the Internet of Things is, and what it will mean for ICT professionals.

By Patrick McLaughlin

Welcome to the first installment of what will be a regular article type in Cabling Installation & Maintenance. We call it In Depth because that is exactly what we plan to do in the article: go in-depth on a given topic with experts in cabling and information and communications technology (ICT).

For our first installment, we go in-depth with Jon Fitz, director of product management for Prysmian Group, on the topic of the Internet of Things. Here’s our Q&A with Fitz.

Q: The “Internet of Things” is a term that is used far more often than it is defined. What does the term IoT mean to you?

A: While many devices communicate autonomously via the internet, the internet as we know it has largely been an “Internet of Humans.” Investment and innovation have focused heavily on the speed, ease and ubiquity of human internet access. The Internet of Things isn’t a separate internet. It’s more like a growing accommodation for the unique requirements of connected devices that are not under immediate human direction, and which aren’t intended to be a human-internet interface. The connections provided to these devices will likely serve new applications. The huge number of anticipated devices requires us to rethink the technical means and economics of connections.

Q: Do you believe that the IoT has the potential to significantly transform certain industries? If so, please characterize how these industries are likely to change and how that change will go hand-in-hand with the need for more connectivity.

A: I believe the IoT will transform many industries in ways we can’t accurately predict. Historically, the internet and computer networks more generally have seen major transformations as we overcame bottlenecks in storage, processing power and/or bandwidth. These have subsequently enabled major changes in the industries that rely upon them, and created entirely new industries. Consider business travel. Years ago I bought a book, in a store, about a city I was planning to visit, so that I would know where to find good hotels or a restaurant for a client dinner. Today, I use my phone to search for nearby restaurants, read reviews, book a table, get a ride (whose driver navigates using app-supplied directions) and post travel photos to my kids on social media. Every step has been radically transformed or created from scratch in the last 20 years. Try to imagine those transformations without ubiquitous connectivity. Now imagine enabling the same kind of transformation for activities involving machines, enterprises or factories, rather than individual people.

Q: Will the growth of the IoT force change within the data center landscape, by creating the need for more or larger data center facilities, the connection of data centers to one another, or in other ways?

A: A recent announcement from AWS and Verizon (“Verizon and AWS team up to deliver 5G edge cloud computing,” December 3, 2019) shows the IoT is already driving changes to the data center landscape. “Centralized” data storage and computational resources will continue to be used for activities that are not extremely sensitive to latency, because large data centers provide economies of scale and centralization avoids duplication. However, some processes can only be addressed with local (de-centralized) processing. 5G could allow these processes to be offloaded to edge computing devices. While edge computing resources are de-centralized relative to a hyperscale data center, they are temporarily centralized for the connected devices in close proximity. This potentially brings new economies of scale, while also simplifying future upgrades to hardware and software. Of course, all these assets must be connected. There are new (and old) options for radio backhaul. But, the underlying physical layer will be almost entirely made of optical fiber cable.

Q: Any other thoughts or insights on IoT you’d like to share?

A: We naturally want specific examples of how 5G and the IoT will work. But, specificity requires concrete examples, which are typically drawn from our past experience. To really get a sense of what’s happening, I think you need to abstract the network and reimagine it without historical constraints. It’s then that you can see how fundamentally it’s being changed. Metaphorically, it’s like introducing the internal combustion engine. The actual outcomes would have sounded like fairy tales back in the day because the subsequent innovations needed for cars or airplanes couldn’t even be contemplated until everyone had a chance to tinker with the emergent technology.

Editor’s note: We’ll take in-depth looks at more topics in the coming months. Next month we’ll get multiple perspectives on the deployment of applications for singlemode fiber-optic cabling. Later in the year, look for Q&A-style articles on topics including IP security systems, 5G, Power over Ethernet, AV systems, edge computing, intelligent buildings, passive optical networking and other topics.

We welcome and encourage contributions to our In-Depth articles from professionals throughout the industry, particularly including those with system design and installation expertise. If you would like to participate in any future In-Depth article, email me at [email protected].

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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