While the concept of IoT offers appeal to businesses of every size, there are several issues that have deterred many organisations, especially SMEs, from entering the market. The escalating costs of mobile networks, both 3G and 4G, have made IoT projects at scale unaffordable and while the market has responded with the introduction of low cost, low power wide area networking (LPWANs), as yet there is no one solution standard. Indeed, in the UK, there is no single network that provides nationwide coverage.
In addition to the networking issues, the sheer complexity of creating a reliable and sustainable IoT infrastructure has affected the development of viable business models. Not only must companies find a way to manage sensors, networks, data storage, data analytics and an essential link to operational systems that leverage IoT data to drive improvements, but they are very concerned about the long-term viability of the model and underpinning technologies.
For any business tempted to invest, there are some very real concerns. Where is the future proofing? Where is the consistent, proven and reliable network infrastructure? How can the complexity of IoT projects be managed effectively 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 both reduce risk and cost and provide that essential future proofing.
While the cost model of mobile technologies has made IoT at scale untenable to date, there has been a rapid evolution of LPWAN technology recently that is paving the way for applications that use tens of thousands, even millions of devices. 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 are being rolled out fastest, with national LPWANs already in place in the Netherlands, France, Spain, South America, South Asia and several more.
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 through blended network solutions at a far lower cost – opening the door for projects that scale to millions of devices.
Proof of Concept
This maturity is being confirmed by the growing number of high profile IoT projects that are beginning to build confidence in both the IoT concept and specific technologies, including sensors that are being manufactured and deployed at scale. For example, the Smart City project in Milton Keynes is using parking sensors in 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. With pollution a recognised threat to public health, local councils are being asked to act – and Smart City projects across the country are looking to use air quality sensors to both provide insight into trends but also deliver real time alerts to support public health advice.
While impressive, these projects are still far less sophisticated in scope and deployment density than many of the developments globally. In Eastern Europe and the Far East, IoT at scale is becoming a reality with large scale deployments of lighting, metering, air quality, parking, and waste management sensors leveraging the new LPWAN network infrastructures.
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. In addition, with integration skills and the use of APIs, IoT platforms and their vital data can be made accessible to operational systems.
Furthermore, these projects are no longer ad hoc – market maturity is enabling the shift towards operationalising proven IoT applications. 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.
We are now on the cusp of something momentous in IoT. The technology components, including the low-cost networks, are now in place; the end to end service model with its new ‘as a Service’ potential is reducing the risk and cost to entry, whilst future proofing investment. IoT is no longer just a tantalising concept – with the operationalisation of key applications, especially within facilities management, it is about to explode into day-to-day business operations.