Possibly envisaged to become the biggest driver of business growth in the next decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been estimated by Accenture to add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
However, although the appetite and potential benefits of IoT are there, it is not yet ready for mass distribution. Risk and cost remain the two biggest barriers to adoption, however, the reality is that for businesses of all shapes and sizes, a new IoT as a Service model could hold the key to IoT uptake on a mass scale.
Limitations to consider
While the concept of IoT offers appeal to businesses of every size, the truth is the IoT’s vision is yet to be achieved. For many SMEs, the expense of 3G and 4G’s connectivity have made IoT projects prohibitively expensive and while the market has responded with the introduction of low cost, low power wide area networking (LPWANs), there is not yet a ‘go to’ solution for companies, adding an element of confusion into the mix.
In addition to the networking hurdle, creating a reliable and sustainable IoT infrastructure is a hugely complex task and has affected the development of viable business models. Organisations must not only find a way to manage sensors, networks, data storage, data analytics and an essential link to operational systems that use IoT data to drive valuable business insights, but there is understandable uncertainty around the long-term viability of the model and underpinning technologies.
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For any business thinking about investing in IoT, there are some very real concerns. Where is the future proofing? Where is the consistent, proven and reliable network infrastructure? How can we undertake such a complex project without investing in huge additional technical resources? The good news is that IoT is hitting a new level of maturity in both technology and delivery model that will not only reduce risk and cost but give businesses peace of mind that they are investing in a future-proof solution.
While the cost model of mobile technologies has made IoT at scale unreasonably expensive to date, there has been a rapid evolution of LPWAN technology recently that will make projects with tens of thousands, even millions of devices, possible. While there are licensed cellular variants such as Narrowband IoT (Nb-IoT), currently being used in pilot projects in Eastern Europe and southern Spain, it is the unlicensed LPWANs that already available for businesses to take advantage of.
One of the most notable global LPWAN technology developments is LoRaWAN, created by Semtech, marketed and sustained by 500+ world-class organisations in the Lora Alliance standard, which is being rolled out across multiple countries. And while today there is no single, cross UK network, the ability to blend networks in different regional areas, including the adoption of international roaming via LPWANs – now provides organisations with a seamless, low cost, scalable IoT network model.
This growing maturity of network technology is being mirrored by the advancement in design and manufacturing of devices – with new sensors and devices available with batteries that can last up to five years, minimising on-going cost and maintenance requirements. Essentially, it is now possible to deliver IoT projects at a far lower cost – opening the door for large-scale, yet affordable IoT projects.
Proof of Concept
This maturity is being confirmed by the growing number of high profile IoT projects that are using the technology to deploy projects at scale. For example, the Smart City project in Milton Keynes is using parking sensors on the road that can tell when a vehicle is parked. In addition to enabling new parking enforcement systems, the project is collecting sensor data to analyse trends in parking activity to support on-going road management planning. Similarly, the Cambridge Smart City project is already starting to measure air quality within this highly congested environment. Both demonstrate the potential value of IoT, rolled out in a scalable and cost-effective way.
End to End IoT
In tandem with technology, advancing is a maturing market model, with a growing number of providers stepping up to manage the network fragmentation and delivering IoT solutions as a service, a future-proof model. This End to End IoT model encompasses every aspect of the solution from sourcing and deploying sensors, to creating the blended network, managing data storage and undertaking analytics. Also, with integration skills and the use of APIs, IoT platforms and their vital data can be made accessible to operational systems.
The IoT as a Service model will make key applications, such as building management systems, smart parking, pest control and waste bin management available for instant use without heavy customisation, removing all barriers to entry, especially within the SME market. IoT is set to revolutionise businesses. However, it is by creating a model that can reduce the risk and cost that we will see the technology truly thrive.