Developers today face similar challenges with the internet of things that they did at the peak of the dot-com boom. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a variety of solutions had been introduced to facilitate machine-to-machine networking. They had names like CellNet, Hexagram and Whisper; and today they are all long gone. Although these companies delivered some minimum level of functionality, they failed in important ways. Specifically, they were entirely proprietary and too limited in capacity to support a wide range of applications. Had they survived until 2016, they would be ridiculed for their insufficient security, bandwidth capacity and a lack of open standards.
Many of today’s IoT solutions, though, aren’t much better. Take specialty network providers for example. Often referred to as LPWAs, they exhibit certain attributes suited for IoT, such as low cost, low energy consumption, extended range and scalability; however, Adarsh Krishnan, senior analyst at ABI Research, summed up the situation succinctly in a press release the firm issued: “While network operators typically favor non-cellular [LPWAN] technologies for their low deployment and maintenance costs, the lack of standards among proprietary vendors is a drawback to wider adoption of these technologies. The closed ecosystem is limiting market innovation and suppressing year-on-year growth.”
These providers are making the same exact arguments for their proprietary technologies that already lost out years ago in other sectors. With more demand for high-scale connected devices, if these networks cannot sustain data-intensive devices, developers will be discouraged to create and go to market with new solutions. They fear that if connectivity isn’t reliable, and if the industry is lacking in widely accepting open standards and properly supporting security, then their products will swiftly turn obsolete.
IoT developers can unlock economic and social value
Technological advancements are making the IoT product adoption and go-to-market cycles quicker and easier, rapidly driving the need for more developers and new solutions. By 2017, Gartner predicts that 50% of IoT solutions will originate in startups that are less than three years old. Developers can more readily leverage a secure, scalable open standards-based IoT network to develop new IoT devices and services such as smart city, smart energy, resource conservation and other applications for public and commercial use. The marriage of IoT and big data also opens up a myriad of applications, new opportunities and potential uses of these two disruptive technologies. Developers can also further innovate and improve current systems and devices for cities and local businesses when leveraging meaningful data harvested on public IoT networks.
Flexible, open standard networks are the future of IoT
If you look at history, you’ll remember that we did not create separate networks for PCs and for Macs. Well, actually we did … and those proprietary networks all ultimately failed. IoT will be no different. According to Machina Research, adopting standardized solutions for IoT costs 30% of the non-standardized total, a savings of $341 billion worldwide by 2025. Users need to invest in a public IoT network that can serve current and future demands, and standardization creates a larger community of interoperable solution providers delivering more competition, more choice and avoids vendor lock in for developers and end users.
The following are three key criteria for IoT users and developers to keep in mind:
- Open Standards and IP — A handful of technology companies have emerged in recent years advocating for widespread adoption of open standards and Internet Protocol (IP) within their respective industries. Many vendors have since followed their lead, particularly in the smart grid space with the adoption of open standards-based IP networking, expressing a shared point of view on the importance of standards. However, not all standards are suitable for IoT. Simply appropriating technologies and standards from other environments, such as the enterprise or consumer spaces, cannot address the unique requirements of IoT to connect critical infrastructure. The standards and specifications need to include support for massive scale, geographic reach across diverse topology, high reliability and long lifecycles. Remember the fate of Wi-Max and others?
- Security should not be an afterthought — Multiple layers of security and discreet division of systems and access roles is important to secure IoT infrastructure, so that even if a hacker compromises a device, they will not be able to control entire systems or access other parts of the network (take the recent Dyn DDoS attack for example). Proprietary security solutions are essentially closed systems that depend on keeping certain aspects secret, that when discovered lead to a complete collapse of the security system. Many rely on a “security by obscurity” approach by betting that a limited footprint makes them a less attractive target to hackers and malware, while others assume that 128-bit AES encryption provides plenty of protection. None offer a complete security architecture for critical applications.
- “Good enough for now” is not good enough at all — Adopting technology that is “good enough for now” can lead to a siloed environment that lacks the many benefits provided by a common user interface and platform to address all use cases. Some users may question why they need that much bandwidth or performance for their applications. In the early years of smart grid, for example, the industry had the same conversations with clients that noted they might never need speeds faster than 100 Kbps. Today, many are asking for as much as 2.4 Mbps as they scale up to connect millions of devices. Just like with the internet, bandwidth creates its own virtuous growth and innovation cycle.
IoT is showing ROI for many sectors, both private and public
The internet of things is fueling operations in many sectors by increasing productivity, reducing costs and offering companies a more competitive edge. McKinsey Research shows that IoT applications could generate up to $11.1 trillion a year in economic value with as much as $1.7 trillion per year in cities by 2025. There are also greater expectations by enterprises, consumers and citizens for connected entities to be more responsive, efficient and aware, and to do more with the assets they already have. IoT facilitates this by bringing digitalization to some previously “technology resistant” sectors.
As the number of devices with cross-connectivity needs increasingly rise, the demand for more resilient IoT networks to support them will be extremely high. By adopting a public IoT network, municipalities and businesses can benefit from reliable connectivity while gaining a platform for economic growth that will transform infrastructure and improve quality of life. This has already demonstrated the ability to dramatically reduce water and energy consumption, thereby reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Implementing a public IoT network in cities or states can create new lines of revenue for players in IoT, including developers, device makers, and connectivity and software providers alike.
With IoT delivering dramatically improved outcomes such as cost, energy, water and other resource usage reductions across a variety of industries, developers now have the opportunity to not only say they created another new product — they can say they changed the world for the better.
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