The Internet of Things and fibre deployments

The Internet of Things (IoT): What is it?

The intriguing and trendy terms the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) wescoined in 1999 by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton, co-founder of the Auto-ID Centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ashton states in an interview with the Smithsonian Magazine that computers in the twentieth century “were brains without senses”, and in the twenty-first century, IoT has enabled them to “sense things for themselves”.

This description hints at the overwhelming possibilities of intelligent or smart technologies and artificial intelligence (AI). IoT can be described as “technologies that allow networked devices to sense other devices and interact and communicate with them” (McKinsey:2010). 

It is about extending the reach of the Internet beyond computers and smart devices to include a spectrum of connected things, processes, and environments. As the technologies of the Internet of Things become more innovative and abundant, living, working, and traveling conditions may change in many ways. A related yet more ambiguous term is the Internet of Everything (IoE) which denotes an even wider reach of the Internet to include all sorts of connections yet to be imagined. 

The ‘Things’ are essentially anything with an embedded sensor able to communicate wirelessly with, for example, vehicles, machines, buildings, people, animals, goods or the environment. Picture individuals fitted with miniature sensors tracked for statistics and the remote diagnosis of some illnesses – this is what the near future holds.

The key technologies driving the Internet of Things are the miniaturisation of sensors connected to wireless networks, through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with fibre as their backbone and the Internet as the mainstay. Pervasive smartphones are already enabling the monitoring and control of sensors from a growing variety of applications.

Fibre needs of the Internet of Things

The availability of home wireless networks is crucial to the deployment of the IoT and is driving its immediate growth. The scale is potentially large since it is predicted that the average family home will contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022, while Ericsson estimates that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020 – ten times as many as people online.

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Greater bandwidth

An optical fibre cable receives data in the form of a light beam which travels across its entire length without any data loss. Fibre communication networks can carry a greater bandwidth of IoT applications. Multiple fibre layers are embedded at the base of the products to offer a seamless collaboration between the sensor and the receiver. 

In-building fibre deployments

Consumer IoT involves home automation which will empower optic fibre networks. The connectivity and communication across machines for e-health, e-security, and home energy management will be improved by deploying optic fibres. For example, an optic fibre connection can transmit data from the consumer to the health experts in real-time allowing quick decisions in emergencies. 

The Internet of Things involves more than just the home and consumers. It will equally impact manufacturing and supply chains. Factories and warehouses will need to increase efficiency particularly in potentially dangerous or noisy situations by remotely controlling machines. Where environmental conditions are simply too harsh to allow wireless networks to operate, fibre optic cables provide the best ways of handling this data and transmitting it around a facility. The IoT will thus see a growth of in-building fibre deployments within industries and for areas of residential buildings that are hard to reach wirelessly. Additionally, as connected cars become a reality, the need for stable connections that can cope with challenging conditions is driving the adoption of fibre networks in the automotive space.

Fibre sensors

Optical fibre technology has found its niche in the fields of energy, technology, healthcare, and aerospace, to name a few. In comparison to traditional transmissions, optic fibre gives a better deal in the form of remote transmission, diverse capability, multi-faceted, and ease of networking. In areas where sensitivity and high performance are essential, fibre can provide the actual sensor itself used in Internet of Things applications since it can measure across a wide frequency band. For example, China is currently researching the use of optical fibre sensors in monitoring intelligent electricity substations.

Preparing for the Internet of Things

The widespread adoption of the Internet of Things will take time. The applications currently planned will not generate the traffic needed to completely fill gigabit fibre pipes. However, IoT will add to network demands from other applications, driving a need for cost-effective, reliable, and high-speed connections in both the home and business environments.

The future for the IoT- Optic Fibre network seems bright which is reinforced by more homes that will in future be relying on smart devices with a growing demand for seamless data transmission across larger distances.

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