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DTN and the IoT

Increasingly, communication over the Internet is not facilitating communication between human beings, but between things. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2022, 45% of the traffic over the Internet will be between and amongst things, rather than people. By 2020, 212 billion “Things” will be connected to the Internet.

While this is impressive, it should also be somewhat alarming. Using the Internet as the glue to facilitate all of these machine-to-machine interactions necessarily assumes that the end-to-end continuous data flow that allows TCP/IP to work for the traditional Internet exists in the machine-to machine environment. And that’s often not true.

Let’s think about the kinds of devices being connected, why they’re being connected, where they’re being connected, and what their capabilities are. Many people might assume that the largest market for IoT would be retail. After all, we’re bombarded by commercials pushing the latest home security systems—or even home management systems that integrate voice-activated power and HVAC controls with advanced security systems that not only arm alarm systems, but also physically secure the home. Retail IoT systems like these are only forecasted to reach 1% of the total value of the IoT market by the year 2025.

The biggest potential market for IoT appears to be in the health care industry. Connected devices can play a significant role in healthcare applications through embedding sensors and actuators in patients and their medicine for monitoring and tracking purposes. IoT is already in wide use in clinics to gather and analyze data from diagnostic sensors and lab equipment. There is an increasingly large movement towards embedding devices in patients themselves to monitor health and/or actuators implanted in the patients’ bodies. These are necessarily small, low power devices that are unpredictably mobile—all factors contributing to disruption or delay.

The second largest market for IoT is forecasted to be industrial manufacturing. Not only have robotics been widely deployed to reduce human labor costs, but there has also been an explosion of sensors that can detect errors immediately and generate repair requests complete with necessary maintenance and repair information. Except for certain environments, traditional Internet infrastructure is readily available.

Third place in the forecasted IoT market is monitoring the production and distribution of electrical power. This means placing devices in many locations far removed from traditional Internet infrastructure, or even cellular infrastructure. Maintenance and repair vehicles are mobile. Again, an environment in which network connectivity is not guaranteed end-to-end.

These are just a few of the emerging markets, use cases and environments in the IoT field. Most of the standards work in these areas have addressed the need for low power wireless communications for different applications. Efforts to deal with disruption and delay have been proprietary, and do not have the foundational assumption that the network will be partitioned in some way that disrupts end-to-end communication. As an emerging IETF standard, DTN presents an opportunity to provide consistent network automation enabling the expansion of the IoT into constrained network environments.

Our next blog will dive a little deeper into the IoT, highlighting how DTN could facilitate the communication between the edge of the Internet and the often network-constrained “Things” that need to connect with it.

This blog is a product of the usual suspects: Scott Burleigh (NASA/JPL); Keith Scott (Mitre Corp./CCSDS); E. Jay Wyatt (NASA/JPL) and Mike Snell (IPNSIG)


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