At Mobile World Congress earlier this year, networking giant Cisco rolled out a new networking and device management platform for IoT practitioners that promises to enable the creation of extremely large-scale deployments without breaking the bank.

The value of doing IoT at scale is a no-brainer. More devices equal more data. More data equals deeper business insights, which in turn equals more revenue opportunities. But IoT at scale can be expensive in terms of delivering basic device interconnectivity. This is particularly true within both remote and congested environments, where bandwidth is either scarce or already in high demand.

Over time any IoT device, be it a tractor, toaster, or mobile phone, will send and receive quite a bit of data over available networks, which can become a true financial drag especially over consumer cellular networks. It can also rapidly drain device battery resources. Cellular connectivity is by its very nature ubiquitous in covering large geographies and friendly toward small devices. But such bandwidth is not cheap, even for devices that store up data for quick, sporadic bursts.

Economies of scale: Cisco’s low-cost cellular IoT network

Keen to make cellular IoT networking a long-term proposition for telecom operators, Cisco has rolled out a new platform, Cisco Jasper Control Center for NB-IoT, that optimises device communications over low-powered wide area networks, called LPWANs. At a very fundamental level, NB-IoT, which stands for NarrowBand IoT, allows operators to connect IoT devices over a unique, segmented network (often over the 2G and 4G spectrum) that does not compete with regular mobile services and better serves IoT devices that need to run for years on a single charge.

The economy of scale available from an NB-IoT installation will be crucial for markets such as smart cities and agriculture, where transformational business insights depend upon a real-time, holistic view of a large number of heterogeneous instrumented devices. For devices not connected to a permanent power source, unnecessary use of battery power today will translate into much higher costs in management costs later.

“China Unicom intends to use the Cisco’s new platform to eventually scale to support over 100 million new IoT devices over the next 24 months.”

Will Cisco’s NB-IoT rendition of LPWAN work? Cisco’s broader Control Center platform has already garnered the interest of some sizable telecom operators in the Asia Pacific Region.

One operator in particular, China Unicom, intends to use the Cisco’s new platform to eventually scale to support over 100 million new IoT devices over the next 24 months. This bodes well for Cisco, which has already built up more than 15,000 Control Center customers worldwide.

Certainly Cisco’s NB-IoT offering is not the only LPWAN game in town. Rival Huawei is actively pursuing a similar solution. Telecom operators, too, are jumping on the NB-IoT bandwagon with both T-Mobile and Verizon announcing their own NB-IoT rollouts in 2018.

Regardless of who comes out on top of this burgeoning competitive cauldron, IoT practitioners will benefit as these companies and their customers use NB-IoT to demonstrate the value of balancing bandwidth with power consumption.

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