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11 key IoT trends, from compute at the edge to LPWANs

Keep up with the latest on the Internet of Things with research and commentary from key analysts and industry insiders.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly changing how humans interact with their surroundings and how companies do business. Here are the latest stats and industry trends you need to know to stay current. 

First, the basics:

IoT growth rates are uncertain

The IoT isn't just a buzzword or technology fad. It's a real trend, as evidenced by the huge number of connected devices already in use in home and industrial settings. According to Gartner, there will be an installed base of 8.4 billion connected things in use worldwide by the end of 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and that number will reach 20.4 billion by 2020.  

Another estimate by Ericsson is more conservative, predicting 16 billion connected IoT devices by 2021. Nevertheless, that number represents a CAGR of 23 percent over the next four years. Beecham Research calls such predictions unrealistic, noting that even if vendors are able to produce tens of billions of devices, there may not be enough resources to install and implement them.

Compute is moving to the edge

IoT data can't always travel back to central IT or the cloud. Data may need to be processed in the field and acted upon immediately, with minimal latency and downtime. The classic example is a modern jet or autonomous mining vehicle, which may have thousands of sensors and numerous on-board applications to provide real-time navigation and ensure the safety of passengers and cargo.

Edge-based compute and storage resources will also need to serve IoT applications in industrial settings, such as a remote manufacturing facility, oil rig, or wind farm. By 2019, at least 40 percent of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to or at the edge of the network, according to IDC. Here's why your business needs data insights from the intelligent edge.

IDC TechScape: IoT Analytics and Information Management

Large-scale Industrial IoT adoption is lagging

McKinsey found that while interest in the Industrial IoT is strong, large-scale adoption is still lagging. The firm surveyed more than 100 leaders from various industrial sectors, including public sector/utilities; telecom and tech/media; oil, gas, and mining; discrete manufacturing; and healthcare/pharmaceuticals. Although none of the executives in the survey had embarked on a full-scale IoT rollout, respondents from most sectors said they were conducting proof-of-concept deployments that involved collecting real-time data from IoT sensors.

IoT is more than IP over wireless

IoT is not just based on IP traffic over Wi-Fi. A December 2016 IDC survey focused on the impact of IoT on IT infrastructure found that in addition to Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth low energy is also a preferred IoT connectivity mechanism. Long-range WANs (LoRaWANs) and narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT) are gaining ground as well, the survey found. 

LPWANs will displace cellular

A key trend in IoT connectivity is the ability to provide low-cost, long-range connections that don't use a lot of power. A report by Beecham Research states that Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) will provide 26 percent of the total IoT connectivity market by 2020, "marking an end to the near monopoly of traditional cellular networks for machine connectivity." The rise of LPWANs based on emerging LoRaWAN, NB‑IoT, and Sigfox standards will lead to a wider range of IoT applications and use cases, according to Beecham.

McKinsey predicts that LPWANs will cover 100 percent of the world's population by 2022. However, the standards picture is less certain, with various standard development efforts still in progress and competing for market dominance.

Solving the IoT power problem

There are still technical and logistical hurdles to placing remote sensors and other IoT equipment at the edge of the network without a direct power source. Long-life batteries can last a few months at most. Battery replacement can be costly and potentially dangerous if they are located in a mine, atop a tower, or undersea.

According to McKinsey, the answer may be recharging IoT equipment from alternate energy sources. Potential solutions involve solar, wind, and thermal energy.

Industrial applications, not home uses, dominate global IoT spending

Spending on IoT will grow at a 15.6 percent CAGR over the next three years, reaching $1.29 trillion in 2020. Hardware spending will account for about $400 billion of the total, according to IDC.

Many assume the biggest growth segment is consumer IoT, as more and more customers buy connected devices like the Amazon Echo and Nest thermostat for home use. However, IoT spending is dominated by industrial applications, including manufacturing (investments of $178 billion in 2016), followed by transportation ($78 billion in 2016), and utilities ($69 billion).

Within each of these segments are dominant use cases, such as IoT for manufacturing operations ($102.5 billion), IoT-based freight monitoring ($55.9 billion), and electricity and gas smart grids ($57.8 billion).

Spending on IoT security still small

Gartner predicts that spending on IoT security will reach $547 million in 2018, up 26 percent over 2017. If this level of spending seems relatively low when compared with overall IoT investments, that's because it is. Gartner reports that by 2020, 25 percent of known enterprise security attacks will target IoT networks. Yet only 10 percent of enterprise security budgets will be devoted to IoT.

Over time, organizations will focus more and more on management, analytics, and provisioning of devices and their data, with more than half of IoT implementations using cloud-based security by 2020. Gartner predicts that the growth rate of IoT security spending will accelerate after 2020 as skills improve, organizations evolve, and scalable service options become available.

Securing smart cities

Some of the most visible IoT applications can be found in cities across the globe. The basic idea involves leveraging sensors, big data, and networked infrastructures to provide better services for residents and enable more efficient municipal operations. Examples include RFID-equipped gantries over highways that replace human-staffed tollbooths and LED lampposts that can sense when humans are nearby and adjust their output accordingly.

These benefits come with risks, however, including outages, security breaches, and legal concerns. A malfunctioning RFID reader on a highway exit could result in residents being overcharged or municipal departments experiencing revenue shortfalls. Or, consider what would happen if personal data or IoT-defined behavior were accessed without permission or publicly exposed.

Computer scientist and consultant Eric Bruno says technologists and policymakers need to consider the legal implications of citywide IoT implementations and even provide the ability to opt-out in certain situations.

Healthcare IoT on the rise (but don't call it that)

Healthcare providers long ago realized the potential of networked technologies such as video conferencing, smartphones, and specialized medical devices and sensors to transform healthcare. According to IDC Health Insights, these technologies have already demonstrated qualitative benefits, letting patients better monitor their health via tablets and smartphones, and providing ways to connect with doctors and caregivers from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

IDC anticipates 80 percent of consumer service interactions will use IoT, big data, and analytics by 2020. However, while these initiatives use the same underlying concepts as many home and industrial IoT applications, don't call it "healthcare IoT" unless you are talking to the IT group or the line-of-business staff responsible for tracking inventory. Doctors, clinicians, and other providers prefer to call it "telehealth" or "connected health."   

Ingestible IoT?

Decades ago, doctors pioneered the use of inserting small cameras positioned at the end of a thin tube into patients’ bodies to perform colonoscopies and other procedures. A new generation of IoT sensors does away with tubes, blood and urine samples, and other evaluation methods in certain health scenarios.

The FDA-approved colon capsule imaging system is a pill equipped with a digital camera, LED light, and wireless transmitter that lets doctors remotely examine the stomach and digestive tract for lesions, polyps, and blood. Another type of ingestible IoT sensor intended to monitor medication adherence was approved by the FDA in certain use cases, but an application to embed the sensor in pills taken by patients was rejected last year.

Related reading: The Biggest Digital Value Chain: Leveraging the Transformational Power of IoT

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.