The Internet of Things (IoT) has really hit the mainstream over the past 12-18 months as consumers brandish their Fitbits, talk to voice-powered personal assistants and marvel at their smart home gadgets. But what about corporate initiatives relating to utilities, industrial IoT (IIoT) and smart cities? As with any rapidly evolving tech trend, it can be difficult to separate hype from reality. That’s why the Wi-SUN Alliance recently commissioned an in-depth global survey of hundreds of IT leaders.

research uncovered a growing demand for mesh networks, which could help reduce the load on cloud servers and drive even greater efficiencies

The results reveal that IoT projects are rapidly gaining speed: half of those investing in the technology already have a fully implemented strategy in place, although many have encountered problems. Interestingly, the research also uncovered a growing demand for mesh networks, which could help reduce the load on cloud servers and drive even greater efficiencies.

Enabling IoT

IoT projects are a major driver for cloud services. The all-important data collected from smart sensors are usually sent back to cloud servers to be processed and analysed, while in many use cases a cloud-connected mobile application front-end is also required. So, the good news from a cloud industry perspective is the strong level of growth in IoT projects we uncovered. In fact, firms in the Oil & Gas (75%), Technology (59%) and Energy and Utilities (57%) industries were even more likely to have a fully implemented strategy in place.  Even when data is processed at the “edge” for real-time applications, aggregated data will still be sent to the cloud.

After information security, we found that enabling IoT was the second most important IT priority for the next 12 months, with organisations keen to improve citizen safety and quality of life, drive business efficiencies and enhance the reliability of systems and services. The even better news is that 99% of respondents claimed to have already enjoyed concrete benefits as a result of IoT implementations, helping them become more efficient and productive, provide a better customer experience and lower costs.

99% of respondents claimed to have already enjoyed concrete benefits as a result of IoT implementationsClick To Tweet

Canadian utility firm BC Hydro has been using a smart grid of close to two million meters connected by a robust wireless mesh network to reduce energy wastage and improve efficiency. This advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) enables dynamic power management and predictive maintenance to help the firm lower costs for its customers and differentiate competitively. At US utility Florida Power and Light, a smart grid wireless mesh network enabled the firm to restore power to 99% of users affected by Hurricane Matthew last year within two days. It claims the system also actively prevented outages at over 100,000 homes.

The benefits of robust IoT networks like this in a smart city context is that they can be expanded to add new capabilities. In Florida, 500,000 street lights were connected to offer greater power efficiency, reliability and public safety benefits. It’s a model that has also been employed around the world in cities such as including Bristol, Copenhagen, Halifax, Glasgow, London and Paris.

Improving security

However, an overwhelming number of IT leaders (90%) told us they struggled to implement their IoT strategy. Security (59%) continues to be the main challenge to adoption, followed by funding and a lack of leadership commitment (both 32%). It’s not hard to see why security concerns are still rife in the industry, with nation states increasingly looking to compromise critical infrastructure and major new vulnerabilities on the rise.

That’s why the Wi-SUN Alliance offers multi-layered protection including encryption and authentication of traffic, OTA update support, and sophisticated certificate-based security to prevent any maliciously modified devices joining the network. When it comes to the other challenges facing organisations, it’s clear that IT bosses must get better at articulating to the board the tremendous business benefits of IoT at scale.

Driving cloud benefits

It was particularly surprising for us to see that network topology and coverage were the most popular things organisations look for when appraising IoT tech. Most (53%) respondents told us they favour a hybrid approach combining star- and mesh-based networks. Using the latter — which are based around peer-to-peer connections rather than a hub and spoke arrangement — enables more processing to be done at the edge, potentially reducing the load on cloud servers.

This could have significant cost and efficiency benefits in certain use cases, such as outage management where the connection to the cloud may be lost after a lightning strike, hurricane or similar. Activities including number plate recognition and traffic management can also be done at the edge to reduce the data transmission and cloud processing load for providers.

Elsewhere, IT leaders we spoke to pointed to performance (53%) and support for industry standards (52%) as key factors in their evaluation of IoT technologies. At Wi-SUN Alliance we’re passionate about the need for open standards to ensure seamless, system-wide connectivity and interoperability. Especially when it comes to the communications infrastructure of IoT, standards can lower costs, boost choice, and enable innovative new functionality off the back of more open data sharing and interoperability.

That’s the IoT we should all be looking to build — one focused on reliability, performance, security and openness. It can only be good news for organisations, their customers and the cloud.