Why personal networks are tomorrow's internet of things

Ten, fifteen years from now, hybrid clouds with vastly improved wireless connectivity will be the sum total of your personal computing experience.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer on

My ZDNet colleague and PC hardware expert Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote an interesting speculative piece today about Apple's future and whether augmented and virtual reality hardware is where it is likely to make significant future investments.

In the past I've touched on where AR and VR is likely to play out in consumer as well as in enterprise and vertical tech, and in particular I have been interested in the overall impact on our society that this technology is likely to make -- good or bad.

I don't know for certain that Apple is going to go into AR and VR. It's certainly possible and not at all unlikely given how much cash they have in the bank.

However I think we can say with utmost certainty that the consumer electronics industry as a whole is going to produce a large number of devices that utilize VR technologies.

They will also reach a sufficient level of maturity within the next 10 years in which they will be relatively commonplace, at least in wealthy households, much in the same way higher-end video game consoles like the XBOX One and Playstation 4 with motion capture sensor devices are now.

I think AR technology will take a little bit longer to mature. I don't know if the leaders will be Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, or someone else entirely. It doesn't matter though, the technology is absolutely coming.

Initially, we will see large format AR devices like Microsoft Hololens emerge first, and will be exploited in vertical and enterprise scenarios because of their initial cost and because of the type of commercial applications they will be used for.

Medical, military, aerospace and other environments that need visualization capabilities in work settings are ideal early adopters for this. The tech will then eventually filter down to the household when economies of scale are achieved and it becomes less expensive. That is a given.

Advanced mobile AR devices that provide more than just basic functionality (such as what Glass can do today) and more than a few hours of usage will take longer to mature.

But VR devices like Oculus Rift and AR systems like Hololens or Glass really are just part of a larger whole of what I like to call Personal Area Networks, or PANs.

PANs will be the the natural evolution of the disparate Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are connected to today's public cloud infrastructure.

Today, devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearables, as well as the myriad of IoT devices in the home all suffer from the problem that there is no effective standard by which they can communicate with each other.

Even within single-vendor solutions, it's still hard to say that all of the devices within a single ecosystem can actually talk to each other without significant intervention.

Connectivity isn't necessarily reliable either -- some devices use Bluetooth, some use Wi-Fi, some use wired Ethernet, some use standards like Zigbee and have to be bridged to other solutions.

Usage of the 5Ghz frequency band with Wi-Fi is anything but standardized with IoT now -- the much more crowded and legacy 2.4Ghz band is by far the standard used by devices today, even though consumer and enterprise access points by and large now feature the 5Ghz band as an option.

The other issue is that all of these IoT devices, for the most part, use public cloud services as their main integration point. They don't actually communicate with each other per se, they all go out through your router and talk to a cloud service where your data is stored, using web protocols and RESTful APIs.

In the future, this problem is going to have to be solved. Unlike today's IoT devices which are fully cloud dependent, the Personal Area Network will be in essence your own hybrid cloud.

Today we like to think of hybrid clouds as things cutting-edge enterprises have -- they have certain systems that run on-premises and some workloads that are bursted to public and private cloud hosted infrastructure.

Hybrid clouds are just starting to become a trend today, as large IT organizations seek them out as highly desired CAPEX and OPEX reduction mechanisms.

But ten, fifteen years from now, hybrid clouds will be the sum total of your personal computing experience. The Personal Area Network will include and tie in all of the IoT devices in your home and in your workplace, and all of your mobile devices, whether they are handsets, tablets, watches/bands or VR/AR headsets.

And it will all be integrated. Seamlessly.

The cloud will still be very important for large amounts of data storage, offloaded compute and as an authentication mechanism, but the end-user will be much more empowered by being aware of the sensors and components in their environment, which will communicate faster, more reliably and will be much better integrated than they are now.

Part of what is going to make this possible will be vastly improved wireless connectivity between components in a PAN.

Standards such as 802.11ac Wave 2 for Multi-User MIMO in 5Ghz for traditional computing networking needs, 5Ghz 802.11ax for high-speed, short range transfers (4Gbps to 10Gbps) and 900Mhz 802.11ah for longer range, lower power but slower transfers will allow a much larger proliferation of devices to participate on wireless networks.

The upside of all of this is ultimately many of these devices will be able to communicate with each other more easily, more reliably and much faster than they do today, provided the infrastructure is in place.

Moving between mobile networks and access points will be much more seamless than today. Wearables such as smartwatches or AR headsets will not necessarily have to be tethered to smartphones or even PCs -- they will most likely be talking directly to access points in the home, at work, and in public.

On top of this, easier to use, but highly secure VPN technology will allow users to isolate their personal networks, even when they are away from home. Part of this will be driven by the eventual phasing out of IPv4 in favor of more secure technologies like IPv6, which make more effective use of IPSec VPNs.

The future of connectivity is a bright one, whether it is for tablets, mobile devices, IoT and things you put on your head. Agree or disagree? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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