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Zero trust, wireless WAN affect the future of IoT networking

Zero-trust security models, wireless WAN evolution and the emergence of pop-up businesses are all helping to fuel innovation in IoT networking capabilities.

The biggest stories in IoT continue to be the proliferation of devices and use cases and the need for better architectures at the enterprise level. But the world of IoT networking is also seeing noteworthy changes. The biggest networking changes affecting the future of IoT are zero-trust networking, the evolution of wireless technology and the rise of pop-up operations.

IoT and zero trust

IoT devices often do not have a full, general-purpose OS under the hood. So, they cannot run endpoint protection programs or a zero-trust network agent, such as a software-defined perimeter client. They may not be able to protect themselves from hostile network traffic at all, beyond being told what IP address management communications should be coming from and on what ports.

To resolve this, IT organizations take a variety of approaches. Once upon a time, a fully separate physical network might have been the norm. Most organizations shifted to separate virtual LANs (VLANs) for isolating specific classes of devices.

Organizations taking a zero-trust approach, though, do not rely on logical segmentation by VLAN alone. They are inserting policy enforcement points into the architecture. For example, a device or many devices of a specific class can sit behind zero-trust gateways, which control all communication.

As IoT platforms evolve and standardize -- and zero-trust vendors refine their focus -- enterprises can expect to see new devices support some classes of zero-trust client. For example, vendors are working on extending application container platforms to the IoT space, which would enable running a containerized zero-trust client to manage communications for the device.

IoT and the wireless WAN

Nemertes Research has seen mounting interest in deploying wireless technology -- either 4G or 5G -- for WAN connectivity. Most organizations with a WAN have at least one location using wireless for WAN in some capacity, most often as failover or backup connectivity in the event of wired link failures.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked the rapid spread of wireless WAN (WWAN), in part because many organizations had to extend their WAN to at least a few home offices. Also important, though, has been the increase in speed and reliability of cellular data networks. Couple that with declining wireless data prices and the high costs for legacy low-bandwidth wired connectivity -- T1 as a prime example -- and organizations can make a strong case for switching to WWAN.

Interestingly, one of the use cases WWAN adopters cite is wanting cellular data services as the transport for IoT traffic. About 15% of organizations cited this use case, according to Nemertes.

IoT traffic encompasses many stripes of IoT activity, including the following:

  • building environmental controls that communicate with a central database and management console;
  • security systems that report on door status; and
  • motion detectors that report on room usage.

A slice for IoT

Still emerging in the carrier space, 5G network slicing will bolster IoT on the WWAN by fine-tuning performance requirements to meet the needs of specific devices and use cases. Slicing enables network providers to dedicate bandwidth to specific use cases and protect it and to prioritize bit handling to manage latency in different slices.

With some devices, enterprises need guaranteed data delivery with low latency, such as robotic forklift location information in a huge warehouse. In this case of slicing, the forklift data would not have to compete for bandwidth with someone watching a movie on their phone during a lunch break.

Ultrawideband

Ultrawideband (UWB) is another wireless network technology that will see broader application in the IoT space for the following reasons:

  • It can move a lot of data fast, when needed.
  • It can move a little data while consuming little power, when needed.
  • It can provide highly accurate location information.

Already integral to high-end smartphones and car key fobs, UWB will see steadily broader application in use cases. Some examples include motion detectors for building security and in-building location tracking for everything from cleaning equipment to patients in assisted-living facilities.

The ability to have low-bitrate, low-power or ultrafast network connectivity -- and to know physical proximity accurately -- will eventually see UWB deployed in sensor swarms. Individual devices will collect and share with each other low and slow data streams as they coordinate data gathering but appoint various battery-rich members to report out aggregated data at high speed.

IoT and the pop-up business

Dovetailing nicely with WWAN is the pop-up business model in which retail and professional services companies open temporary locations to address short-lived opportunities or demand spikes. WWAN is a great way to provide full enterprise connectivity to pop-up locations with no lead time required to establish service or to shut it down.

By the same token, WWAN is the key to integrating IoT devices in pop-up branches into an existing IoT architecture. Businesses can propagate security measures to devices with no lead time and manage them the same way devices in more conventional branches are managed. A door sensor can be placed above the door in the office just leased for two months, for example, and immediately be part of the security infrastructure.

This was last published in April 2022

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