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Industry Insight

Networking's new frontier

A number of opportunities are available to develop software that allows IOT tech to proliferate and interoperate.

It's bonanza time for the networking industry. A variety of new and exciting technologies are on the horizon. They're set to disrupt the status quo and restructure the ‘happy ecosystem' that currently exists. The industry is about to re-experience the heady times of the late 1980s and early 90s, when innovative technologies were vying for dominance.

Those who were around in that era will never forget the fierce battles that raged between the Asynchronous Transfer Mode switching technique, the Token Ring topology, the Fibre Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) set of ANSI and ISO standards, and other transport mechanisms.

They were matched by the confrontations between the protocols running on them, such as those associated with the Banyon Virtual Integrated Network Service (IPX) distributed network operating system, the Internetwork Packet Exchange/Sequenced Packet Exchange and the Internet Protocol (IP).

Preach the word

Each technology and protocol had its own evangelists who would actively recruit disciples to the cause, claiming their solution to be the only way forward for the network and the saviour of the enterprise.

It was an exhilarating time – the dawning of a new age in which significant amounts of time and effort were invested by many specialists in attempts to create middleware that would persuade these different environments to communicate with one another.

As a result, the development of skills and expertise was exponential, as the challenges faced during network design and deployment phases were overcome – one by one.

Rightly or wrongly, Ethernet – the IEEE 802.3 protocol – won the race to be the network protocol of choice, and it became the standard that controls how data is transmitted today. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, the IP quickly became the most implemented.

As the dust settled, the clamour for technological acceptance and supremacy quickly abated. The rate of development declined as the industry's focus shifted. With the ‘eggs of all players now in one basket', a new race began to commoditise the products supporting the chosen technologies. The goal was to make the products faster and bring them to market sooner. ‘Enhancement' and ‘refinement' became industry watchwords.

History is set to repeat itself as there is no accepted, all-pervasive IOT standard.

However, the old adage is true: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Today, with the acceptance of the Internet of things (IOT) gaining momentum, technology consumers are in much the same position as their enterprise colleagues were in the early 90s.

With new and exciting technologies set to disrupt the status quo, history is set to repeat itself as there is no accepted, all-pervasive IOT standard. And there is no single, broadly accepted IOT application development platform either.

In the IOT arena, the current fight between multiple technologies – such as low-powered Bluetooth, Zigbee, WiFi, RF, Whitespace, LTE and 4/5G networks – can be compared to the battle between Ethernet, Token Ring and FDDI nearly three decades ago.

Come again?

The sense of déjà vu is palpable as the flood of new IOT-related technologies pervades the industry. There's a definite spike in research and development activities as vendors and specialists experiment with applications needed to allow diverse systems to co-exist and collaborate.

This time, however, while the industry will most likely follow a similar development curve as it did with corporate networking back in the day, I don't believe a single, universally accepted technology will emerge.

In other words, there'll be no single, standard technology to facilitate communications between IOT devices.

It will be a case of ‘horses for courses'. For instance, Zigbee might be the most applicable technology for the smart home environment, but low-frequency RF and cellular solutions may be more applicable for industrial IOT applications.

This leaves the industry with a vast number of opportunities for invention and growth, as new software will be needed and new applications will have to be developed to allow IOT technologies to proliferate and interoperate.

Being able to manipulate data and information culled from vastly different components – ranging from electricity meters to solar battery packs and diesel engines on mines – and being able to interpret and correlate the data in order to provide meaningful information to users, are at the heart of the challenge now being faced.

Fortunately, within this IOT melee, there is a role for the channel, as vendors will be called on to work with dealers, resellers and individuals to develop, market and support any number of (perhaps revolutionary) collaboratory solutions that will influence the tech world for years to come.

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