neXt Curve Research Principal, Dean Freeman, attended the Internet of Things World 2018 trade show that took place May 14th to the 17th at the Santa Clara Convention Center to gain insight on what is new and happening in the world of the IoT.
The Internet of Things World conference continues to grow as excitement and hype surrounding IoT continues unabated. IoT World is one of the world’s largest IoT events with over 12,000 attendees in 2017. This year, the exhibitor space at the Santa Clara Convention Center was nearly filled out indicating a notable growth spurt from 2017 thanks to a large showing of Blockchain vendors.
The show demonstrated that the IoT market is continuing to mature; although, nearly every keynote mentioned something about POC (proof-of-concept) purgatory, or that there is greater than an 80% failure rate for companies taking on digital transformation or IoT initiatives. The companies that were having success with their IoT programs had a clear message, “Get the end-user involved!” or as I like to say borrowing from Steven Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” Starting with the end user or stakeholder gives the developer a better chance of solving a problem and getting the IoT solution successfully implemented and delivering real business value. I distilled my experience at the show to six key takeaways presented below.
The Internet of Things: The Hype is Still Alive and Well
There is still as much hype as substance in the IoT. Most keynotes focused on platitudes, buzzwords and market research. Several keynotes continued to contribute to the narrative that IoT is still stuck in POC purgatory with very few compelling use cases or success stories presented. This could be because no one wanted to tip their hand as to why they were successful – competitive advantage. Those that did present successful use cases had one common theme – get the end users involved early during the conceptual phase. This enabled companies to solve a real problem and not just come up with a concept that no one knew how to use.
The Avnet presentation gave a good example of the current state of many IoT implementations. The story went something like this. You buy a suit. The jacket is missing the arms. To finish the suit the end user needs to go to a shepherd, buy the wool, treat the wool, dye the wool, and then knit the sleeves to match the suit. The moral of the story is that there are not too many companies or integrators out there that have the skill to have the arms sleeves match the rest of the suit. Until the IoT gets to that point, or starts with a problem to solve, there will continue to be more hype than substance.
5G Got Ready for Prime Time. LPWAN is Filling The Gap
There is still a communications gap in the IoT. 5G implementation is still a way off. Wi-Fi is great for the home or office but has its limitations elsewhere, and cellular is still fairly expensive, especially if you need any bandwidth to speak of. Enter LPWAN such as LoRa, SigFox NB-IoT, and private networks. NB-IoT is being driven by China and is heavily promoted globally by Huawei. Some speakers seemed to discount the prospects of NBIoT even though it appears to have a significant number of working installations around the world. Success in China is a pretty good market, and if the experience is a good one you will likely see NB-IoT roll out world-wide as a LPWAN choice.
While 5G develops, cities implementing IoT solutions are turning to other low power networks. In many cases private networks are being implemented. This gets the project off the ground, but then may create some connectivity issues later as other IoT applications are deployed with a different network. For those that have implemented smart home applications, think of dealing with the different networks in the same manner that you have to deal with the different hubs to make a smart home work. It’s a jumbled mess sitting in a corner somewhere that will eventually need to be untangled and figured out.
Security is Still The Achilles Heel for IoT
Security is still an afterthought in most IoT implementations and was only touched upon by companies pushing security solutions. This was very interesting especially after the news of Meltdown and Specter (see the neXt Curve podcast on this topic). Some of the industrial IoT implementations mentioned at the show run in a closed network to avoid security breaches. However, the more public IoT implementations are still at risk both from a silicon perspective and a communications hand off perspective. This could be one of the major reasons we are still in POC hell. Companies are afraid to implement until they know they can be secure, and they should be. Vendors need to get serious about security and have an honest conversation about emerging security threats such as Meltdown & Spectre before things change for the better.
System Integration Starting to Create Affordable Solutions
Companies such as Avnet are beginning to work on IoT solutions that are affordable and are more easily implemented than in the past. A viable, successful IoT solution needs to be an end-to-end solution with no handoff that can create problems for the end-user. The communication paths and software handoffs need to be such that there are no patches in between that can either be an entry for a hacker, a data choke point, or a possible point of system failure. As affordable integration becomes available companies that had looked at IoT solutions and platforms as cost prohibitive will begin to change their sentiment.
Blockchain, Edge Computing and AI Oh My!
The IoT hype is particularly thick and vibrant when discussing Blockchain, AI and computing at the edge. While Blockchain has some great applications such as tracking farm-to-table or sea-to-table, implementing it for every IoT application goes overboard and confuses the end user who still equates Blockchain with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
AI and edge computing go hand in hand. Many IoT applications will have some form of AI. As a result, the processor used will likely need a bit more compute capability if AI is needed at the edge. But at the moment there are so many different definitions of the edge the end user is confused. Edge, near-edge, fog, mini data center – the reality of it all is the edge is where the data is collected. If you need to process and analyze the data for applications such as a windmill, an autonomous vehicle or an airplane, then you will need enough compute power at the edge to collect and process and implement your form of AI at the edge. If the data is moved, then you are no longer at the edge!
Stronger Use Cases Emerging Moving Us Out of POC Hell
As the IoT solution providers do a better job of engaging the stakeholders, stronger use cases will emerge that will begin to move the IoT out of POC hell. One example that was showcased at Internet of Things World was Clear Blade, a communications platform that enables building automation equipment to communicate with each other. The Clear Blade IoT platform enables the end users as well as the BAS vendors to develop solutions for mixed use building applications that help buildings operate at a significantly lower energy operating expense.
Implications for Business Leaders
The IoT needs to get out of POC purgatory. This will benefit both the IoT solution providers and the companies looking to implement IoT solutions. To get out of POC purgatory solution providers and implementor will need to engage the stakeholders to insure they are solving a problem, not implementing a solution. The IoT solution providers that understand the need to engage the stakeholder and develop IoT solutions that will solve a problem should see a higher level of success in their IoT business and get their clients out of POC purgatory sooner than later.