We can only have a ‘net of things if we have a net to work with

By 2008, there were already more “things” connected to the internet than there were people. By 2020, that number is projected to swell to more than 20 billion. The world is digitizing at a mind-blowing rate and the corresponding market for connected devices and services has exploded.

Consumer products like Apple’s iWatch and Alphabet’s Nest have captured the public’s attention, but they’re only a small part of the story. For now most of the innovation of the Internet of Things (IoT) is actually happening behind the scenes—in places like factories, office buildings and hospitals.

McKinsey estimates that the value of the global IoT market could rise to as much as $6.2 trillion by 2025—the majority of which will come from healthcare and manufacturing. That market represents massive opportunities for both business growth and innovation.

See also: Could telcos lose their shirts on IoT-driven 5G business?

But in order to scale to its full potential, the burgeoning world of IoT needs something else: a network stable enough to support all that new activity. Before developers can start rolling out their IoT applications, they need businesses to create the right infrastructure.

Telecommunications, cloud communications, unified communications and storage companies all have a hand in defining our current network capabilities. They will also be the ones competing for the opportunity to take us to the next level of IoT networks.

Why do we need IoT networks?

Most connected devices in the US currently run exclusively on traditional data networks. This is problematic because those networks are siloed, fragmented and limited in scope. As anyone who’s ever used a laptop in an airport knows an impacted network means inconsistent service. Adding billions of new devices to our existing networks is simply unsustainable. Those businesses either need to create new, dedicated IoT networks or other players will rise to fill the space.

Many people don’t understand the magnitude of data that the Internet of Things requires, but it is part of what drove the development of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6). The new IP standard extends web addresses to 128 bits, which opens the door for far more addresses to be created. Those unique IP identifiers, like digital license plates for the each device, are what enable machines to talk to one another. Widespread adoption of IPv6 is necessary for all these new connected devices to communicate with one another and work on the internet.

It’s frustrating enough when a cell phone, fitness tracker or tablet loses connectivity with another device. Imagine the consequences if the same thing happened to one of the devices we come to rely on in the future, like healthcare devices or self-driving cars. Today’s siloed networks require a prohibitively immense and collective effort to ensure the support we’ll soon need.

How would IoT networks even work?

To avoid the same pitfalls, IoT networks will need to be unified and supported by multiple layers to prevent failures. They’ll need radio access to fill in lags and gaps, and a quality of service layer to ensure communication doesn’t drop. In addition, IoT networks have the opportunity to avoid the silo problem (fragmented and unreliable coverage) that most mobile networks have by deploying globally. Rather than trying to hop from one network to another, messages can travel seamlessly between devices.

Creating devoted worldwide IoT networks gives us room to grow and add devices at the rate that projections have predicted. It gives us a stable basis from which we can piece the Internet of Things together more reliably–something that will only work if all those connected devices have something to connect to.

Can IoT networks and innovation grow together?

Although developers have undoubtedly made major breakthroughs in creating novel IoT devices, there have already started running into walls. Many devices still struggle with connectivity issues, attaching to other devices or failing to respond completely.

To avoid those kinds of issues, some companies have already started using dedicated IoT networks. Car2Go, a car rental service with over a million users in the Europe and the US, uses a global proprietary network to remotely unlock and turn on cars all over world, without having to rely on mobile. The company is able to monitor which cars are where and make and implement operating decisions instantly, ensuring renters always have quick and reliable service.

Ovum Senior Analyst Jamie Moss recently stated that, “The enablement of the underlying fabric of society through connectivity will be both transformative and barely noticeable.” In other words, the efficiencies that the IoT enables will be so seamless that they won’t seem out of place…assuming that they work.

Whether they come from hardware companies, telcos, or cloud communications software  companies, global IoT networks are the next critical step in IoT development. It’s only once we have them as a foundation that we can really build an Internet of Things into the world around us.

The author is president of Nexmo, a Vonage Company.

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