CHICAGO -- At an event where 1,500 people have gathered to talk about a not-so-distant future in which tens or even hundreds of billions of devices are connected, there is surprisingly little focus on where communications service providers fit in the Internet of Things (IoT).
Discussions at the Internet of Things World Forum here, hosted by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), focus on the demands on businesses to adapt in a more connected world, security implications and how Cisco-coined "fog computing" can be applied, passing over the seemingly obvious component of carrier networks and the companies that operate them.
In her keynote yesterday, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior spoke of an IoT (or "Internet of Everything," another Cisco-ism) ecosystem comprising customers, partners, entrepreneurs and developers -- but didn't mention carriers or networks.
The reason for the omission? Kip Compton, Cisco's VP of IoT systems and software, tells Light Reading it's a role that -- though important -- has yet to be clearly defined and a question that's still being explored.
"It's hard to pin down because we're fairly early on," Compton says. "We see a big opportunity for service providers in IoT, but it's still taking shape -- as most things in IoT are."
The confusion over service providers' roles in the IoT isn't Cisco's problem, obviously. For the most part, the carriers themselves have yet to clearly indicate how they might ultimately expand their role as connectivity providers and pursue revenue-enhancing efforts in areas like application enablement for enterprises, for example. To date, most IoT-related carrier attention has been on the connected car sector -- an important area, to be sure, but just one component of the potentially vast IoT opportunity. And even industry efforts to define carrier involvement are still largely focused on issues related to connectivity. (See IoT: More Things, More Challenges, Driving Miss 4G: Execs Talk LTE Cars at CTIA and GSMA Issues Carrier-Backed IoT Guidelines).
The reason for the overall lack of clarity at this point could be because the basic framework of the IoT -- lots of endpoints but relatively low bandwidth requirements -- doesn't play immediately to carriers' strengths. As for how it ultimately could, however, Compton says carriers should concentrate on ways network connectivity can be enhanced and customized in IoT scenarios by applying services such as analytics, for example. (See Cisco Applies Analytics to IoT Video)
"One thing for service providers to think about is which of these IoT services benefit from being closely aligned with the connectivity," Compton says.
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading