Cisco India Blog

The Role of Network in IoT

November 7, 2016

In my last blog, we looked at the critical role that the network plays in securing the enterprise. In this one, let’s look at the role that the network will play in IoT. The number of connected devices is expected to grow to 50 billion by the year 2020. There is a more bullish estimate of this – 200 billion by the year 2020. That would be anywhere between 6 and 24 devices for every person on earth. This will be accompanied by an increase in the global spending on IoT devices and services from $656 billion in 2014 to $1.7 trillion in 2020. Homes, cars and wearables are all getting smarter…sensors and modules will constitute close to 32% of everything that connects to the network.

The IoT devices will be deployed in a variety of verticals like healthcare, energy, transportation etc. The characteristics of these devices vary significantly, and the network is uniquely positioned to support the requirements for these devices to function. The network will provide connectivity, power, policy, compute, security and manageability at scale to IoT deployments.



The IoT devices will most definitely need connectivity to the controllers that will be controlling the devices. The connectivity to the network could be wired or wireless. There are several protocol options in this space like zigbee, bluetooth, z-wave, 6LowPAN, WiFi, Cellular, NFC, Sigfix etc. The network will need to evolve to support these protocols that are common in the IoT world.


Power over Ethernet is one of the significant innovations in the last decade that has powered devices like phones and access points, enabling innovations like VoIP. More recently, PoE is being leveraged to power lights in the enterprise. This has several advantages:
• It reduces the installation costs in the enterprise significantly, because deployment of traditional electrical conduits is expensive.
• It is safer compared to traditional electrical infrastructure.
• It is more efficient – Network powered lighting is expected to increase the power efficiency by 38%.
• Converging the building and IT infrastructure will also help reduce the customers’ operational expenses.
• With UPoE, even laptops can be charged through the network, eliminating the electrical conduit at the cubicles.
Moving forward, more devices in the enterprise like HVACs and badge readers will start leveraging PoE.


Securing the IoT infrastructure is critical given the verticals it will be deployed in. The recent attack on the Dyn DNS servers, which brought down Netflix, Amazon and Twitter among others, originated from cameras that were infected with the Mirai botnet. The network will need to evolve to be able to secure these devices – it needs to protect the devices from being infected by malware, but will also need to protect the network and application servers from attacks originating from the infected IoT devices. The devices connecting to the network would have to be authenticated, which is something that the network would play a major role in.

In some verticals, IoT devices will require a secure connectivity to the application running in the server. As an example, a video camera can originate traffic that needs to be securely transported to the control room. This would require a secure tunnel to be created from the camera to the server.


The network has compute than can be leveraged in the IoT deployments to process events that cannot afford latency in processing. The IoT devices themselves are highly cost optimised, which will limit the compute available in those devices. The network, as a result, would have to support an application hosting environment, that would allow the IoT vendors to host their software locally. Extending on the example given above in the context of video surveillance, the compute on the network elements could be leveraged to run image processing software that can help detect events. Local detection of events will help in scenarios where the priority that the network provides for this traffic has to be dynamically increased.


IoT devices, in many cases, would require specific SLAs from the network – such as latency and reliability. Based on the type of the device and the requirements for the traffic generated, the network can provision the required end-to-end policies that would help realise these requirements. The controller will, in this case, help in the provisioning of the required configurations on the devices in the traffic path.


Managing the IoT devices at scale is a major challenge in the enterprise. While every IoT vendor would most often have their own controller to manage their IoT devices, the network can help host this software stack in the compute that is part of the networking infrastructure. It will help deliver the critical messages from the controller to the devices with high reliability. It will also help automate the provisioning of the network for supporting IoT deployments.

In summary, the network will play a role that is front and centre in the IoT revolution – it’ll help rolling out these high scale deployments in quick time. There has NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO ROLL OUT IoT.

Leave a comment


  1. Hi, I want to start learning networking in IoT. I read your lecture but I want to know if somebody wants to start studying, which course should be registered?
    best regards.

  2. Well articulated aspects of where Cisco can play in the now convoluted IoT space. Network seems to be at the helm of the game!

  3. Thanks for the interesting read. To add to the list, I think along with the compute, there could be storage implications as well where network could play a role in IoT space as these devices would be generating lot of data specifically in form of images and videos captured, or logs generated from sensors. Closer access to data at the edge with reduced latency would be always useful.

  4. Interesting article!