Cisco’s Jasper deal – one year, 18 million new IoT devices later, challenges remain

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Credit: Stephen Lawson

You’d be hard-pressed to write a better opening script than the one playing out for Cisco and its now year-old acquisition of Jasper. The $1.4 billion deal was to make Jasper technology the centerpiece of Cisco’s Internet of Things strategy and it has largely done that. Of course, challenges remain – improving security and product family integration among them but the companies are off to a good start.

Cisco closed the deal on Jasper last March and since then Cisco says the number of companies using Jasper’s Control Center has grown to over 9,000 from 3,500 and the company continues to add 1.5 million devices a month. In addition, the number of service providers offering Control Center services has grown to 50 from 35. Control Center is the central component of Jasper that lets users automate connectivity as well as launch and manage all aspects of IoT services.

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With the advent of everything IoT certainly would have helped Jasper grow, the Cisco tie-in only enhanced that development. Gartner says there will be some 8.4 billion IoT devices in use at the end of 2017, up 31% from the end of 2016. IoT growth should continue at that pace until at least 2020, when there will be just over 20 billion devices, Gartner says.

“Jasper has become one of the centerpieces of Cisco’s IoT business. As Jasper is one of the two leading IoT connectivity platform vendors (the other being Ericsson who has fewer carriers using their platform) it provided immediate credibility (and carrier customers who in turn have many enterprise customers) for Cisco in IoT given the fact that Jasper has been doing this since 2009 and has 50 service providers using their platform with [over] 40 million connected devices,” said Kathryn Weldon, research director, Business Network and IT Services for Current Analysis.

It helps too that adding IoT devices is not considered an unusual enterprise activity any longer, companies are looking to enhance their customers’ experience and make everything work more smoothly together, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research as well as a Network World blogger. ”Cisco handles the management of connected devices very well which makes the combination attractive to enterprises and service providers.”

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In an effort to keep the growth rolling now and in the future Cisco/Jasper recently strengthened its IoT reach by adding support for an emerging low-power WAN technology and expanding its partner programs further into automotive and healthcare.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the recent announcement was the support for Narrow Band-IoT -- a 3GPP-standard for Low Power Wide Area Networking (LPWAN) that Cisco says is expected to drive growth of IoT devices at a massive scale, increasing the number of connected devices more than 3 billion by 2023.

Cisco says NB-IoT uses existing LTE infrastructure to enable lower power consumption while maintaining excellent coverage. Examples of industries where NB-IoT is expected to take hold include smart meters, smart cities, smart parking, building automation, asset tracking, and remote agriculture.

“NB-IoT is expected to offer the best option for battery life relative to the other low data rate 3GPP standards of Cat M and Cat 1 although this is dependent on the amount of data sent over a short time interval. In-building penetration and coverage are expected to be better than other cellular technologies. These characteristics make it ideal for applications that are sending small amounts of data but are in remote areas with no access to continuous power,” said Dan Shey, vice president and IoT Practice Director for ABI Research.

“Once NB-IoT networks become ubiquitous particularly on a geographic basis, asset tracking I believe will become a big market for this standard. First for industrial and enterprise markets – parts, pallets, materials, equipment, but eventually consumer applications. While estimates vary on size of the market, sometime in the 2020s, you will see billions of installed devices leveraging the standard.”

infographic jaspers first year at cisco CISCO

For Jasper this means they can support their partner operators with NB-IoT which I think is the major benefit today, Shey stated. “Obviously as connections grow to the billions, there is clear revenue upside but NB-IoT won’t make as much money as other cellular technologies on a per connection basis and massive connection numbers won’t come until the 2020s.”

Moving forward what issues and challenges will impact Cisco Jasper the most? First of all it’s hard to have a discussion of IoT and not include its security implications.

Gartner predicted that by 2020, more than 25% of identified attacks in enterprises will involve IoT, although IoT will account for less than 10% of IT security budgets. Security vendors will be challenged to provide usable IoT security features because of the limited assigned budgets for IoT and the decentralized approach to early IoT implementations in organizations. Vendors will focus too much on spotting vulnerabilities and exploits, rather than segmentation and other long-term means that better protect IoT.

An IoT study published by HPE’s Aruba last month said that a number of obstacles that IT leaders feel are preventing IoT from delivering greater business impact. In particular, the cost of implementation (50%), maintenance (44%) and integration of legacy technology (43%) were highlighted as key issues.

Most notably, security flaws were found across many IoT deployments. The study found that 84% of organizations have experienced an IoT-related security breach. More than half of respondents declared that external attacks are a key barrier to embracing and adopting an IoT strategy. This confirms that a holistic IoT security strategy, built on strong network access control and policy management, will not only protect enterprises but also simplify the security approach for IT.

“One of our greatest challenges now is to keep up with the sheer scale and growth of IoT,” said Theresa Bui, director of IoT strategy for Cisco Jasper. “Enterprise customers are getting more sophisticated about what they want from and how to control IoT. As enterprises scale up IoT deployments, how they will secure that environment becomes a challenge.”

There are other challenges Cisco Jasper faces as well, most having to do with more tightly integrating Jasper and core Cisco product families, experts say.

“So there should be many synergies with other groups at Cisco to integrate Jasper technically with other Cisco solutions or perhaps launch a blended solution or portfolio that includes Jasper and other Cisco products and services. Also we would expect Cisco to extend its channels and partnerships to Jasper, etc.” Weldon stated. “So far, while Jasper keeps getting new operator customers, we haven’t really seen the Cisco synergies playing out yet nor have there been many new core features added (or publicized) to the platform itself.”

More deeply integrated Jasper and Cisco products would help in the sales channel as well, Kerravala added. “IoT can be sold to different levels of a company that Cisco isn’t always prepared for and more tightly integrated product lines might ease that challenge.”

Connectivity platforms are kind of the low-level knitting of IoT, Weldon added. “A lot of the action today is on the higher levels, where the application enablement platforms from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, GE Digital, PTC, etc. are getting all the attention. These players could subsume the lower level connectivity platform capabilities through development, acquisition… It’s a blurry line – does Jasper add capabilities that go higher up the stack, do the app enablement platforms also take on connectivity management, or do they stay forever as separate ecosystems?”

Earlier this year Rowan Trollope, Cisco senior vice president and general manager, IoT and Applications, wrote about IoT future trends. He said that in the next year, the internet will connect to about 1.5 billion new “things,” and by 2020, over 20 billion devices will be online.

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“In theory, every one of them will be able to connect to every other. The Internet was not created to handle this population explosion of data-generating devices. It won’t collapse suddenly, but it does need to change,” he wrote.

According to Trollope, the “edge” of the internet will become a huge growth market: Some IoT devices do have the potential to swamp existing networks. Cameras send a lot of real-time rich data. New jet engines are laden with sensors and generate 10 gigabits per second when running, terabits per flight. Cars also are now recording massive amounts of information. If there’s one part of the global IoT network that needs rapid upgrades to serve business, it’s the “edge,” the border between IoT devices and the computers on the internet.

“The massive amounts of data being generated by the IoT need to be processed, reduced, and analyzed before it hits the internet. It’s a big opportunity,” he said.

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