Cisco's $1.4 billion acquisition of cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform Jasper will enable the latter to continue its bid to solve the problem of data delivery for mobile providers, and taking the complexity out of IoT for enterprises.
Calling Jasper the "technical interface" for the more than 30 mobile operator groups for which it provides an IoT platform, Macario Namie, head of IoT Strategy for Cisco Jasper, said Jasper was founded 12 years ago to solve one major problem: Enabling enterprises to put connected products on mobile networks worldwide.
"For us, being part of Cisco, number one we still very much believe that the opportunity that existed for us as an independent business is just even that much greater," Namie told ZDNet.
"One of the things that most excites us about being part of Cisco -- we can address the bigger problem now that we're part of a larger organisation -- is that getting the data off of the sensor and into the cloud wherever that is for the enterprise is a hard problem.
"It's a communications problem, it's a plumbing problem, it's a speciality problem; you're talking about various different technologies in terms of network, for devices if there's 100 devices, you have 99 operating systems, so it's incredibly fragmented, and so most organisations not only don't have a competency of how to connect things ... more importantly, they don't want that competency, they just want everything to work."
Providing a simple solution that works well for both enterprises and mobile providers is Jasper's overall goal, Namie added.
"We want to solve that data-delivery problem and just work super easy for the customers," he said.
"Our job is to remove the complexity and make it as simple as possible, across the network, whether cellular, whether it's wired, whether it's in a moving device, whether it's in a static device."
Included among its mobile operator customers are AT&T, which earlier this week launched an IoT Starter Kit developed with Cisco; all three Canadian operators; two of Japan's three operators; China Unicom, with Namie noting that China is a rapidly growing market for IoT; several operators across Europe; Etisalat in the United Arab Emirates; and Telstra, which he said is "very serious" about its network, and Optus in Australia.
More importantly, according to Namie, Jasper serves over 5,100 enterprises across these mobile networks. With 32 million devices connected to its platform, and growth of over 1 million more devices each month, he said Jasper's current IoT product is in its "hyper-growth stage".
Jasper supplies the cloud-based software-as-a-service control centre that sits between mobile providers and enterprise customers wanting IoT connected solutions, with the control centre providing access via either the web or application programming interfaces (APIs) to control turning the service on, rate plans that customers are assigned to, the policies involved, usage monitoring, reporting, and fraud controls.
Jasper's product currently utilises the existing cellular networks; however, it is actively looking into low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks such as LoRa, as well as enterprise Wi-Fi, which Namie recognised as being "a big part of Cisco".
"Most of the operators are actually looking at low-power wide-area networks as well," he added.
"There's a little bit of debate in our world over whether unlicensed spectrum models like LoRa, what their role is compared to some other ones that are cellular based, like narrowband IoT, or LTE Cat M or Cat 1."
The arguments in favour of narrowband IoT focus on the fact that it is supported by the existing cellular networks, with instant nationwide coverage after a software upgrade, and that it also utilises the existing spectrum, meaning there will be no debate about allocating a spectrum band and regulating that.
"The biggest fear is just interference and noise," Namie explained in relation to the cons of using LPWA for IoT.
"So if you believe, as some of us do, that maybe not next week or next year, but there will ultimately be billions of devices connected, and there's a role for LPWA in that, then you can have a lot of signal interference and congestion ... and so that has to be managed. I don't think people have addressed that well enough yet.
"That's one argument for licensed spectrum -- because it can be controlled that way -- but then it has to be governed and it becomes very expensive, which is the flipside to it. I don't know that there's a great answer on it yet."
During his Cisco Live Las Vegas keynote on Monday morning, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the acquisition of Jasper had been "critically important" to the networking giant's overarching strategy.
According to Robbins, an IoT strategy is one of the things required for companies, governments, and the enterprise to take part in digital transformation, alongside executive sponsorship; speed, agility, and innovation; IT and line-of-business alignment; and pervasive security.
Robbins said Cisco is in a unique position for monetising IoT by using its skill set in and knowledge of both service providers and the enterprise.
"One of the fundamental things that I believe ... is that one of our advantages is our deep understanding of the service provider environment and the enterprise environment, and our ability to help bridge those two," the chief executive told media on Monday.
"Which is why Jasper is such a great fit for us, because it is a technology that we acquired, but it's one that we partner with the service provider to actually drive that connectivity, and we're looking at how we not only provide value to the enterprise by giving them the ability to leverage that data into their applications and make decisions, but we're also at the same time looking at how do we provide more services for the service provider to offer on top of that platform, so we look at it from both angles."
Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Cisco Live in Las Vegas as a guest of Cisco.