According to IDC, worldwide IoT market spend will increase to $1.1 trillion in 2021, while the installed base of IoT endpoints is expected to reach over 36 billion units by the end of the same year. However, the heterogeneous nature of the IoT has created multiple complexities for deployments in the enterprise. While the price of sensors has trended downward over the years, there is now a significant cost associated with building out multiple networks to support endpoint communication. Moreover, enterprises are contending with the steep, long-term cost of managing, securing and maintaining separate networks for disparate wireless protocols. Although ultimately unsustainable, the above-mentioned paradigm is serving as an unintended catalyst for the trend of wireless convergence in the enterprise. Let’s explore this concept in detail below.
1) Multiple Wireless Radio Technologies
Wi-Fi isn't always the default choice for companies marketing IoT devices such as smart door locks or wearable staff alert buttons. This can be attributed to a range of factors such as power constraints, the demand for more compact form factors and relatively limited data transfers (no need for a big data pipe). Consequently, there are a diverse number of radio types that are being deployed in the enterprise IoT space. In addition to Wi-Fi, these include Bluetooth® Low Energy, Zigbee, and LoRa. These deployments often result in the creation of separate wireless networks, driving up TCO due to redundant wiring, power, and management tools.
2) The Demand for Unified Management
The unified management of wired (LAN) and wireless (WLAN) networks has become an important selling point over the past decade. This is because administrators are notoriously unforgiving to vendors that force them to work with a separate management system for each network element. It simply isn’t cost effective to have one management system for switches, another for access points and yet more for additional wireless IoT endpoints. The lack of appetite for disparate management systems – whether for switches, APs or security – has long been a catalyst for network vendor consolidation. Put simply, IT departments are no longer willing to work with multiple management systems and strongly prefer vendors that provide a unified pane of glass for network management.
3) Deployment Issues: Lack of Physical Space
With a separate network for each wireless IoT protocol, enterprises are rapidly running out of physical real-estate to house additional network components. This is because each disparate network requires space to house an IoT gateway, a separate firewall, as well as switches, powering and cable infrastructure. A lack of physical space poses a significant barrier to adoption – except for those with the most to gain or the most to lose.
The Solution: The Converged Access Point
Unifying multiple wireless protocols – such as Bluetooth® Low Energy, Zigbee and LoRa – within a single AP enables IT administrators to save physical space and streamline secure device onboarding. Moreover, a converged AP allows administrators to more easily view, manage and secure their entire wireless infrastructure with a single pane of glass. This facilitates network automation, the generation of actionable analytics and the creation of custom dashboards with open APIs.
From our perspective, the converged access point is the antithesis of the trend towards 'commoditized' APs, allowing support for new services and potentially lucrative revenue streams. The once humble access point is becoming a hotbed of new and exciting innovation, with more and more technologies being built directly into the AP. For example, the R730 packs embeddedBluetooth® Low Energy and Zigbee radios, along with support for IoT modules that can accommodate additional physical layer protocols such as LoRa.
Disparate wireless IoT networks such as Bluetooth® Low Energy, Zigbee and LoRa are expensive to deploy, operate, secure and manage. Unifying multiple wireless protocols within a single AP allows IT administrators to save physical space and streamline secure device onboarding. In addition, a converged AP allows administrators to more easily view, manage and secure their entire wireless infrastructure with a single management console. However, it is important to emphasize that incorporating non-Wi-Fi standards into a conventional 'Wi-Fi only' AP creates a slew of technological challenges that range from coexistence interference to traffic coordination. This is a topic we’ll explore in-depth in a future blog post.