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Hot IoT Trend: 5G Wireless on SD-WANs

A hot trend in the Internet of Things (IoT) development space is the marriage of emerging 5G wireless networks with the burgeoning and disruptive software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) movement.

Even though 5G -- the next iteration of wireless connectivity -- is just coming online in the U.S., major industry players are scrambling to form partnerships to combine 5G with SD-WAN implementations that feature IoT as a primary use case.

Two such partnerships just happened this month, with one involving AT&T and VMware, and the other between Verizon and Cisco.

AT&T picked VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud to integrate with its 5G technology, seeking to provide a "transformative combination" to serve organizations using SD-WAN along with 5G networks as either the primary or secondary WAN connection, along with other transport connections.

AT&T indicated this 5G/SD-WAN combination is an inevitable "next step" in the evolution of modern networking technology.

"This eventual combination of technologies will mark the first time that control will be built into both the software (SD-WAN) and the transport (the cellular network)," AT&T said in a news release. "Before, SD-WAN was the point of intelligence in application-aware networking for a business. It would tell each application what transport to use, and the transport would simply carry it out. With software-defined networking extending into the cellular network, this intelligence can now be applied to the transport as well: traffic can be prioritized by device or application."

Beyond benefits such as faster speeds, AT&T has touted the boost that 5G networks will give to IoT projects, saying: "When added to existing network architectures and combined with other next-generation technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and other Edge-to-Edge capabilities, 5G will alter the very DNA of our user experience in dramatic, exciting ways -- from retail to financial services, transportation to manufacturing, to healthcare and beyond."

Shortly after that news, Verizon announced its Virtual Network Services will support 5G devices on Cisco's SD-WAN platform, which features intent-based networking, an offshoot of the software-defined movement. The carrier said the combination of technologies will help organizations more easily manage network traffic and application performance across a WAN on both public and private networks.

Like AT&T, Verizon touted various benefits of 5G networks, in this case specifically working with SD-WANs for enterprise IoT implementations. "The new offer from Verizon and Cisco sets the stage for enterprises to use Verizon's future 5G network as an extension of their campus and branch infrastructure and enable more control of the application performance on mobile and IoT devices," Verizon said.

Furthermore, Verizon said: "IoT devices that sit outside the campus or branch could be managed and secured with the same network and security tools used inside the campus, giving enterprises a unified approach to applying networking and security policy across any environment."

5G is starting to supplant older cellular mobile communication technology. On Dec. 21, 2018, AT&T claimed to be first provider to make 5G services live in the U.S. Benefits of 5G include faster speeds, reduced latency, energy savings, cost reduction, higher capacity and massive device connectivity, the latter being especially important in growing IoT initiatives.

SD-WAN is a more established but also fast-growing approach, providing an inroad into the enterprise for the disruptive, new-age software-defined networking (SDN) movement that sees more open, interchangeable software solutions overtaking legacy, proprietary, hardware-based systems. Commonly reported benefits of SDN include agility and flexibility, lower costs and increased performance. As the SDN movement matures from early testing and proof-of-concept efforts in academia and test labs -- mostly targeting major service providers and carriers -- SD-WAN solutions are increasingly penetrating the enterprise networking space.

The integration of the two technologies, though recently picking up steam as evidenced in the new partnerships, has been in the works for a while now.

For example, way back in August 2017, TheFastMode.com published the article "Operators Aggressively Investing in SD-WAN, 5G, IoT and Data Centers to Compete in the Enterprise Segment."

That article reported on an industry benchmark: "The benchmark also examines key investment areas operators are targeting to enhance their enterprise portfolios including 5G, data centers and the deployment of IoT network technologies including LTE-M,NB-IoT and LoRa. Most carriers have begun pre-standards 5G testing, and commercialized fixed wireless is expected to become available in 2018."

More recently, about 11 months ago, Talari Networks published "5G, the IoT and SD-WAN: Glancing Ahead at Networking’s Future."

Noting the many benefits of 5G, Talari said: "These 5G features are like tailor-made enhancements for Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives, which are already benefiting from the 3GPP-approved innovations like LTE-M and NB-IoT that we discussed in depth last year. Through IoT-specific protocols, nontraditional devices can overcome constraints on available bandwidth and power, not to mention challenges to their security.

"As the first cellular generation designed with the IoT in mind, 5G should lend additional support to new classes of infrastructure, as well as to SD-WAN applications. Today's SD-WANs can be extended over many types of network transport -- from MPLS to commodity Internet -- and both 5G and the new IoT standards will be essential new cogs in an already powerful machine, providing automated decision-making, liquid bandwidth and integrated security."

Cradlepoint is also onboard, last June noting that "Business IoT Applications Benefit From SD-WAN Prioritization."

"SD-WAN technology can ease installation for new site locations, and it provides centralized management that can alleviate the need for trained IT personnel to physically visit remote locations. SD-WAN technologies help secure WAN traffic flows by providing additional security for sensitive IoT traffic. Many SD-WAN suppliers support integrated Wi-Fi and 4G LTE to connect IoT endpoints." As several industry sources have noted, that wireless connectivity will soon expand to 5G.

Last October, an ITProPortal article examined "SD-WAN: Laying the foundation for 5G success." That article states: "Compatible with any WAN architecture, SD-WAN solutions can enhance software-defined infrastructure with no disruption, and bring improved support for wireless technology, such as IoT through faster, policy-based provisioning of WAN services to support device connectivity."

With this year's Mobile World Congress just starting today, stay tuned for more 5G/SD-WAN announcements to further enhance IoT use cases.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.