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Bandwidth-sipping IoT steers clear of net neutrality debate -- for now

Stephen Lawson | May 20, 2014
For now, the Internet of Things doesn't use enough network capacity to stir up arguments.

As game-changing as those applications may be, the bits they generate won't add up to enough traffic to butt heads with the likes of Netflix streams and peer-to-peer file sharing — at least not yet.

"The amount of traffic from Internet of Things compared to the amount of traffic that's created by you and me just surfing the Web ... is like less than 1 percent," said analyst Steve Hilton of IoT consultancy Machnation.

Even if consumers' broadband speeds were affected by a paid-priority scheme, it probably wouldn't get bad enough to hurt IoT, said Tom Lee, co-founder of IoT cloud provider Ayla Networks. "If it's good enough to satisfy most Netflix consumers, it almost automatically satisfies the needs of the IoT things," Lee said.

Some home IoT applications do have some basic performance requirements. For example, when keeping track of a patient's health from home or detecting a break-in, users might want to make sure there are no delays. The predecessor of such emergency services, the 911 phone call, already gets priority on carriers' networks. IoT is opening up a new world of alerts that go beyond 911, but for now at least, the new types of services aren't demanding special treatment.

IoT devices and software have built-in mechanisms for making sure they get messages out. Those include protocols for falling back to another carrier or another form of communication, such as SMS (short message service) if the usual method fails, said Daniel Collins, chief technology officer of Jasper Technologies. Jasper is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) provider for IoT infrastructure.

"What I haven't seen yet is where companies are saying, 'Because my application is some kind of a life-or-death application, that therefore my traffic should get some priority treatment over other traffic," Collins said.

But if providers of connected-health services are allowed to pay for priority, they probably will, Hilton said. And though there may be objections to it, prioritizing those narrow streams of traffic probably wouldn't affect anything else consumers are trying to do, he said.

Paid prioritization could help IoT, like other services on the network, achieve the right performance if they had special requirements, said Doug Brake, a telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. But he doesn't expect regulators to carve out exceptions for certain services deemed more deserving. Whether a Fitbit or a life-saving alert bracelet, IoT would probably have the same right to paid priority as an online game, Brake said.

AT&T, which on its wireless network lets content providers cover the cost of delivering their data to consumers' phones, indicated that it's committed to keeping the Internet open to all types of services.

 

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