From self-driving cars to smart thermostats, the internet of things — which refers to internet-connected devices that can send and receive data without the help of a human — has steadily infiltrated many aspects of daily life.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for IoT, according to Riaz Raihan, global vice president and general manager of Cisco IoT. By 2020, the San Jose–based multinational technology company hopes to hit one billion connected devices through its Jasper and Kinetic platforms.
“We already have a very large number of connected devices,” Raihan says. “Jasper alone has about 80 million.”
Cisco paid $1.4 billion for Jasper Technologies in 2016.
Crain’s recently talked with Raihan to learn more about Cisco’s strategy to reach its goal of all those connected devices, as well as about what he envisions the future of IoT will look like.
How does Cisco operate in the IoT space?
Our point of view in IoT is that it is essentially a data problem. We have three fundamental challenges to solve: Connecting all the devices; processing data at the edge; and moving the data where it needs to be. Basically, it is the extracting, processing, and movement of data.
Cisco wants to have a billion connected devices by 2020. How does it aim to do that?
Several different factors are helping to drive that. One is Jasper, which is all about cellular IoT and the public cellular network. So if there is a SIM card on a device, and that device is creating data, we can use Jasper to manage the connectivity for those devices — and we do it across all kinds of connectivity, like 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE.
Jasper has a particularly large install base with connected cars, which is one of our largest verticals. We also recently launched a new technology that allows us to connect a number of Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) devices. These devices use a very small amount of energy and data. One use case would be a soil sensor, which wakes up just two times a day and transfers small amounts of information, like the humidity and temperature of the soil, from its SIM card and then goes back to sleep. So NB-IoT is changing the IoT game dramatically — not by a factor of 10 or 100, but by hundreds of millions. We will potentially be connecting more than 200 million NB-IoT devices in China alone.
Another important factor for us is Kinetic, which is a platform that’s used to manage IoT devices running on the information technology and operational technology networks that companies create to manage their own infrastructure. Five examples of where this applies are cities, manufacturing, energy, transportation and retail.
On the Jasper side, we work through service providers like AT&T, and on the Kinetic side, we sell directly through the enterprise.
Let’s talk a little more about cities. How invested is Cisco in smart cities?
Smart cities have been a massive endeavor for us for a very long time. We are currently working with about 35 cities around the world on this. We offer them capabilities like connected lighting, connected parking, trash collection and environmental tracking, enabling a number of use cases on our platform, called Kinetic for Cities.
Cisco recently partnered with Teradata, a database service provider, to enhance smart cities; what does that entail?
Smart cities generate a large amount of data that then needs to be captured, managed, manipulated and eventually used. That’s where our partnership with Teradata comes into play. This use case involves managing the vast amounts of data that the sensors in the smart city implementation are generating, but we do partner with other players beyond Teradata.
Does Cisco often partner with other companies on smart cities?
Because the cities market is so fragmented and use case–specific, we have to partner with sensor manufacturers, and a lot of work goes into integrating with them. For trash collection, for example, there are sensors that fit inside a trashcan; you need different sensors for lighting that will sit on top of light poles. So we spend a lot of time integrating with these various types of sensors. Unfortunately, there is no standard set of sensors around the world — just types of sensors for different things. We have to be able to support all of them.
What does Cisco think the future of IoT will look like? How will it affect the way we operate?
To answer this question, let’s explore three dimensions: Cities, transportation and consumption.
Let’s start with cities.
More than 50 percent of humanity now lives in cities. IoT will help make life in these cities more convenient, as well as safer and more secure. On the security front, cities are currently some of the largest users of IoT-enabled cameras. They use other IoT-enabled devices to track environmental factors like air pollution and fog density and to help make parking easier for people. If you’re going somewhere in the city for a concert, for example, you won’t have to spend a lot of time looking for a parking spot because you’ll have an app to figure out how much parking is available in certain places. That’s a huge fix to a problem every large city faces.
Another one is lighting. Cities are now finding they don’t need to keep all of their lights on all night. But rather than having the lights on timers, they can have sensors that both sense and predict when traffic is coming and light up the roads accordingly, which is pretty amazing — and helps cities save a lot of money.
How will it affect transportation?
Connected roadways are among the largest future users of IoT. Autonomous driving is becoming increasingly real, and as we approach true autonomous driving — not just the kind that assists the driver — cars will not only have to communicate with each other but also have to communicate with the road they’re on. For example, the road should be able to send information to the car about driving conditions, like black ice, so the car can maneuver accordingly. These roads could also tell cars how to navigate on the road. So if you have a stretch of road that curves to the right, the road can send that information to the car so that it knows to slow down in advance, so it can make the curve.
These connected roadways will make life easier and safer. We are already working on some of these types of projects and believe it could be a sleeping giant.
IoT is helping make manufacturing more efficient. For example, when a machine breaks down or is about to break down, there are currently ways to sense that so you can send a crew in to fix it. Now, many companies want to have sensors on their machine so that they can proactively track its health and predict when the machine is about to break down, which then allows them to prevent that from happening. This makes manufacturing cheaper and more efficient, therefore making the cost of goods cheaper to consumers.
Today, oil and gas companies are trying to use IoT to track the condition of their oil wells, rigs and refineries, which helps them bring down the cost of production for crude oil, petroleum and gasoline. Obviously, the price of crude oil is something we cannot control, but we can control how we extract and refine it, which helps bring down costs. The same is true of utilities. IoT-enabled smart meters, which are already a reality, allow us to optimize our energy usage and actually bring down the amount of energy used without reducing our quality of life. This is a good thing, not only for the cost reductions but also for the planet.
With all of this investment in IoT, does that also mean that Cisco needs to ramp up its ability to help keep data more secure?
IoT devices are some of the most hackable devices on the planet. Cisco’s approach to IoT begins with security — it’s not an afterthought. Before we even design our network architecture, we do a very tedious security checkpoint to make sure that security is embedded in our design right from the get-go.