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IoT, the reality behind the hype

A decade after the advent of IoT, the pundits’ technological forecasts are certainly upbeat in terms of the products and initiatives on the table and in the pipeline. That said, we’re still a long way from those 20 billion connected devices that the experts talk about for 2020.

IoT promises us a totally connected world with information from elements and use cases we can’t even imagine today. We are not talking here only about connected homes, smart offices or autonomous vehicles, but rather changing the very way we interact with surrounding objects, whether at home, at work or during our leisure time.

Main challenges

This scenario, in which practically anything in our surrounding world is connected to the information-sending and -receiving cloud, throws up a slew of challenges whose solution is revolutionizing many sectors of today’s society. The most important challenges posed in recent years are the following: connectivity needs, computational demands and lack of standardization.

Device connectivity and bandwidth was one of the main challenges technology had to take on. In many cases, the need was simply eased by turning to an existing Wi-Fi network or by using the cell phone as an access point. On other occasions, for example in open-country deployments, the answer is more complex and two approaches are now beginning to be used:

  • Intermediate gateways to exchange information with the cloud from adjacent nodes by means of connections like Zigbee or LoRA. This movement favors the use of fog computing and companies are now starting to transfer part of the computation to these devices, even going so far as to transfer part of the cloud to the last mile of communications.
  • New Sigfox- or NB-IoT-type narrowband communication technologies, which enable the sending of small information packages.

Information processing and cloud computation needs are now being driven and fed by the advent of platforms and services provided by market players like Microsoft Azure, AWS, IBM and so forth, or platforms like Fiware, Carriots and Predix, which can cater to the huge amount of data received from IoT devices. These platforms facilitate the necessary scaling of applications and favor the use of IoT with very affordable prices. Especially noteworthy in platforms of this type is the use and fostering of the “function as a service” concept, where the platform runs a code fragment without this forming part of a complete project or microservice, allowing automatic scaling to suit the particular load in each case.

Finally, one of the stiffest challenges yet to be met is the lack of IoT standardization due to the dizzying speed with which previous players developed and launched their services. This means interoperability is one of the greatest challenges faced by this technology.

Knock-on effect on other technologies

IoT technology has favored the development of other technology which had been stalled until recently. Take the case of artificial intelligence, which has revived on the strength of the huge amount of data that can now be obtained from IoT systems. This has had a big knock-on effect on operational efficiency, ranging from predictive maintenance and logistics to process optimization.

Big data is another of the IoT-driven technologies, enabling us as it does work with sensor data that fits in with big data requirements, i.e., variability, since data of diverse type is generated (numerical readings, soundwaves, images or videos); speed, since the readings are often obtained in milliseconds; and volume, given the great amount of connected devices.

New trends

New technologies are now cropping up around IoT, further driving its advance. A case in point is edge computing. This technology is used to ensure device data is processed as close as possible to where it is generated instead of being sent up to the cloud. IoT service providers are developing gateway-deployed software development kits that offer a subset of cloud functions, thus facilitating data processing without having to pay the cloud “toll” and often catering for the needs of latency, computation and security. They really come into their own when device connectivity is poor or in cases involving latent information processing, in such examples as augmented reality, smart cars, financial services or manufacturing — in short, in environments where every millisecond counts.

In this scenario, gateway manufacturers are endowing their devices with higher computation capabilities. This in turn calls for their virtualization to turn their capabilities to the best account, isolate processes and facilitate their administration. This leads to the advent of IoT device virtualization technology like VirtualPAC, which enables software to be remotely virtualized, run and deployed in industrial PLCs and gateways, facilitating and optimizing the operation of plant equipment across the board.

IoT’s influence on digital transformation

Reduction of the purchase cost (in equipment, bandwidth and processing) and the abovementioned technology show that IoT is nowadays playing a key role in the digital transformation of a great part of the business fabric. It currently offers much finer granularity in the management of production and, in the future, will improve the control and predictive management of these processes on the strength of the digital twins.

Industrial environments are without any doubt one of the great drivers of IoT, even producing a further breakdown into industrial IoT. This environment poses some important challenges, especially raising awareness of the crucial nature of cybersecurity in IoT devices to ensure a more secure future. This awareness-raising must take in not only the domestic environment, where the devices habitually used are as affordable as they are insecure, but also the industrial environment itself, where IoT equipment now forms part of productive processes and any security gap could lead to a loss of information and competitiveness and even endanger human lives.

We at GMV have seen a great technological revolution around IoT in recent years. In particular, the industrial sector is calling for new use cases and applications that, working under the main cybersecurity paradigms, favor not only an increase in market efficiency, but also turn IoT into one more tool for developing new business models, allowing industrialists to be more disruptive and win a bigger market share. In this scenario we see how technology is now meeting many of the expectations that had cropped up recently; it is changing the way society interacts with itself and its environment and spawning new and thrilling challenges that spur and goad our creativity for providing our clients with the best possible solution.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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