Zero trust, wireless WAN affects the future of IoT networks

The biggest IoT stories continue to be the proliferation of devices and use cases and the need for better enterprise-level architectures. But the world of IoT networks is also experiencing notable changes. The biggest networking changes affecting the future of IoT are zero-trust networks, the evolution of wireless technology, and the rise of context-aware operations.

IoT and Zero Trust

IoT devices often don’t have a complete and versatile operating system under the hood. Thus, 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 knowing what IP address management communications should come from and on what ports.

To solve this problem, IT organizations are taking various approaches. Once upon a time, an entirely separate physical network might have been the norm. Most organizations have moved to separate virtual LANs (VLANs) to isolate specific classes of devices.

However, organizations adopting a zero-trust approach do not rely solely on logical segmentation by VLAN. They insert policy enforcement points into the architecture. For example, a device or multiple devices of a specific class might be behind zero-trust gateways, which control all communication.

As IoT platforms evolve and become more standardized – and zero-trust vendors refine their focus – enterprises can expect to see new devices supporting certain classes of zero-trust clients. For example, vendors are working on extending application container platforms to the IoT space, which would allow running a containerized zero-trust client to handle device communications.

IoT and Wireless WAN

Nemertes Research has seen growing interest in deploying wireless technology – 4G or 5G – for WAN connectivity. Most organizations with a WAN have at least one location that uses wireless for the WAN to some extent, most often as failover or backup connectivity in the event of a wired link failure.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the rapid spread of wireless WAN (WWAN), in part because many organizations have had to extend their WAN to at least a few home offices. However, the increase in speed and reliability of cellular data networks has also been significant. Add to that falling wireless data prices and the high costs of legacy low-bandwidth wired connectivity – T1 for example – and organizations can make the case for moving to WWAN.

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

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

  • build environmental controls that communicate with a central database and management console;
  • security systems that signal door status; and
  • motion detectors that signal the use of the room.

A slice for the IoT

Still emerging in the carrier space, 5G network slicing will empower IoT over WWAN by refining performance requirements to meet the needs of specific devices and use cases. Slicing allows network providers to dedicate bandwidth to specific use cases and protect it and prioritize bit management to manage latency in different slices.

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

Ultra-wide band

Ultra Wideband (UWB) is another wireless networking technology that will see wider application in the IoT space for the following reasons:

  • It can move a lot of data quickly, when needed.
  • It can move a bit of data while consuming little power, when needed.
  • It can provide very precise location information.

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

The ability to have low-speed, low-power, or ultra-fast network connectivity – and to know physical proximity with precision – will eventually see UWB deployed in sensor swarms. Individual devices will collect and share low and slow data streams with each other as they coordinate data collection, but appoint various battery-rich members to report aggregate data at high speed.

The IoT and the pop-up business

The ephemeral business model in which retail and professional services companies open temporary locations to respond to short-lived opportunities or spikes in demand fits perfectly with WWAN. WWAN is a great way to provide full enterprise connectivity to ephemeral locations without the time it takes to establish service or shut it down.

Similarly, WWAN is the key to integrating IoT devices in pop-up branches into an existing IoT architecture. Enterprises can propagate security measures to devices without delay and manage them in the same way as more conventional branch office devices. A door sensor can be placed above the door in the office that has just been rented for two months, for example, and immediately become part of the security infrastructure.