Peak data and the Internet of Things

The Australian government’s research agency, The CSIRO, released a report on “spectrum crunch” and the role of ubiquitous connectivity in future wireless applications. Their conclusions have serious lessons for those deploying Internet of Everything applications.

In it’s report, World Without Wires, the CSIRO points out that wireless communications rely on radiofrequency spectrum which has practical limits and is a finite resource.

Peak data

Borrowing the term Peak Data, the agency speculates many cities and regions might be approaching the point where the available mobile telephony spectrums are being swamped and the challenge is for researchers and telcos and researchers to find new ways to move more data wirelessly.

“In the future, how spectrum is allocated may change and we can expect innovation to find new ways to make it more efficient but the underlying position is that spectrum is an increasingly rare resource,” says  the CSIRO’s Director of Digital Productivity and Services Flagship Dr Ian Oppermann.

“With more and more essential services, including medical, education and government services, being delivered digitally and on mobile devices, finding a solution to “peak data” will become ever more important into the future.”

The wireless data paradox

It’s a paradox that just as we’re entering a world of unlimited data, we have limitations of what we can broadcast wirelessly as radio spectrum becomes scarce and contested.

“We can see ten times growth in global mobile data between today and 2019;” says Warren Chaisatien, Ericsson’s Australian Head of Marketing and Networked Society Evangelist, citing the company’s Mobility Report published last year.

Chaisatien sees Telcos dealing with the spectrum crunch by reusing 2G and 3G frequencies for LTE operations, the 1800MHz GSM band being particularly attractive. Similarly the ‘digital dividend’ of moving television broadcasters off the 700MHz band adds network capacity.

Telcos are also looking at pooling resources through carrier aggregation, a feature available in LTE Advanced, the evolved 4G standard.

“We are seeing more and more common usage of LTE services,” says Chaisatien. “It enables operators to harness the power of separate spectrums they have that may not be continuous.”

“This is the next LTE feature that operators will be turning on to take advantage of the disparate spectrums they have today.”

For telecommunications companies, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity; the challenge being squeezing more data into limited spectrum while the opportunity lies in charging more for guaranteed connectivity.

The latter raises questions about network neutrality and the question of whether different types of traffic across wireless networks can be charged differently or given differing levels of priority.

Distributing the load

This also gives credence to the distributed processing strategies like Cisco’s Fog Computing idea that takes the load off public networks and can potentially hand traffic over to fixed networks or point to point microwave services.

Ericsson’s Chaisatien also sees telcos handing off data services to hotspots and heterogeneous setups where traffic is carried by local networks. This

While M2M data is tiny compared to voice and domestic user needs, it does mean business critical services will have to compete with other users, both in the private Wi-Fi frequencies or the public mobile networks spectrum.

Overall though, the situation isn’t quite as dire as it seems; technological advances are going to figure out new ways of stuffing data into the available spectrum and aggressively priced data plans are going to discourage customers from using data intensive applications.

With fixed line communications, particular fibre optics, available spectrum can be relatively simply increased by laying down more cables – wireless only has one environment to broadcast in –  so finding ways of pushing more data through the airways is what much of the CSIRO’s paper addresses.

A key lesson from this though is those designing, M2M, Internet of Things or smart city applications can’t assume that bandwidth will always be available to communicate to their devices.

Something else that users have also keep in mind is that internet services, particularly cellular connections, are usually provided on a ‘best effort’ basis; meaning that operators rarely guarantee that data packets will be delivered.

For the Internet of Things, robust design will require considering security, latency and quality of service to deliver the reliability customers and the community expect.

About the author

Paul Wallbank is the founding editor of Networked Globe and has nearly twenty years experience of working in and reporting on computers, the internet and the future of our connected society.