Published: 29/03/2016
Author: Greg Collins

Originally published on RCR Wireless on March 29, 2016

Enterprises and businesses are at the cusp of a major transformation, a new wave of industrialization based on IoT

IoT will involve the intersection of powerful supply and demand factors that will cause a tremendous amount of change and value creation. Beyond the economic benefits of business use-cases for the “Internet of Things,” the implications of this trend on our understanding of our societies, economies and ecology can be profound. Imagine data from soil sensors in Iowa, for example, being correlated with emissions data from California. Human behaviors and conditions can be mapped and analyzed with great detail, bringing serious privacy and security issues and concerns.

The infrastructure and networks that are necessary to effectively create, manage and analyze these connections are currently in early stages of formation. These largely wireless networks will be enabled and managed by networks built via virtualized network functions riding atop off-the-shelf computing hardware. These networks will be managed and optimized by big data analytics with sophisticated data mining and eventually machine learning techniques.

In addition to continuing to expand the capacities and capabilities of wireless networks, in the near term, there are several factors inhibiting the strong uptake of IoT projects. While these factors are getting better everyday, they are nevertheless key to the mainstream adoption of IoT:

• Cost effective sensors and actuators, with strong battery life
Often times the greatest cost of an IT project involves providing the users with the technology (hardware and software) needed for the project. Moreover, there is often significant ongoing expense in supporting and maintaining the clients or the users technology. In the case of IoT, the projects do not involve users per se. Rather, there is a great deal of cost in outfitting the project, often involving many more sensors than people, with sophisticated networked sensors. Maintaining these sensors becomes very expensive the more the batteries need to be replaced and sensors need to be adjusted and/or replaced.

• Security and management systems
Devices that are connected to the network through standard-based protocols like IP are in danger of being hacked and/or spoofed. Given the mission critical aspect of some of the uses cases, human life could be in danger as transportation and utility systems can be compromised. Therefore, it is essential that IoT sensor networks and management systems be as secure as possible.

• Repeatable and measurable use cases that span businesses and industries
Common, cross-industry use cases will help to drive economies of scale. With less customization amongst sensor, network and application infrastructure, economies of scale (plus competition) will drive costs continually lower. This will make IoT applications more affordable to a wider variety of organizations.

Businesses need to begin to prepare for IoT trends and consider which of their processes would benefit from it, and begin to shift these processes and cultures towards digitization and then implement IoT once it makes sense economically. IoT will enable a reimagining of many businesses and industries, but typically these generational trends start small and gradually build over decades as the technologies and the economics improve.

From a networking perspective, the conditions are aligning to support this next wave of industrialization. Emerging “5G” wireless standards promise greater network capabilities to enable cost effective, large scale IoT use cases. Narrow-band radio channels for IoT and NFV will lower the costs and create more elastic core network capacity, and management and orchestration of network functions methods will help with the automation of IoT network functions.

Once information or measurements are captured by the IoT system, they then can be mined for patterns that will offer insights into how to solve problems or make a particular process or business function more efficient and profitable. Data can also be correlated with other IoT data to form even larger data models about businesses, economic behavior and the environment. Real-time analysis of data for applications like autonomous cars and robotics, which require extremely fast, real-time processing and millisecond-based decision making based on thousands of potential measurements, will require extremely fast, fail-safe, latency sensitive networks.

For businesses, however, there are issues that should be considered when deciding which IoT projects in which to invest in the near term. For enterprises, it’s important to start small, but keep an eye on the future. Starting small means focusing on smaller projects that might affect a relatively low number of people and business processes. In this case the investment in sensor and networking technologies is relatively small and on-going maintenance and support is manageable within existing business processes. Examples might include: asset tracking, logistics and meter reading.

Keeping an eye on the future means that ultimately each project should not exist as an island and that all projects should fit within an overall network/IT and business process and human resources strategy. Often times the most important assets within an enterprise or organization are human assets. Considering how IoT can benefit an organization’s human assets via better collaboration and communication, and via greater access to data and information, should be integral to a strategy.

In sum, organizations should consider the following vendor developing their strategy and plans for IoT:

  • Focus on specific vertical markets like transportation, utilities and health care where the use cases and return on investment are straight forward and have a strong and easily measurable ROI.
  • Use cases that are easy and cost effective to manage and maintain over a number of years.
  • Management of the application is complementary to established, well-run business processes. This means that an initial project should not attempt to change current business processes unless it’s tied to business process re-engineering and time has been spent developing a cultural buy in of the application within the company.
  • Enterprises are wary of getting locked in to specific vendors and service providers.
  • Cost, battery life and maintenance of the IoT device/sensor is also a key factor in economics and manageability of the use case.

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