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For many of us, the internet of things (IoT) is becoming second nature, and even for those who have been waiting to see what happens, connected things are starting to impact our lives, regardless. The implementations of IoT are varied, from personal device connectivity through to connected homes, cars, factories and smart cities.
But just how far has this gone? Have the benefits lived up to the earlier hype, and what can we expect over the coming years? And what are the barriers to more widespread adoption?
The seminar held in the auditorium at BT Centre, London, was an opportunity to explore these questions and to get a greater insight into the reality of IoT. It was attended by about 90 people, with expert speakers from BT, Cisco and Connect Fibre.
Adam Thilthorpe, director of external affairs at the British Computer Society (BCS), spoke briefly about the partnering opportunities around the IoT.
He noted that the increasing reliance on IT and telecoms by individuals, companies and society as a whole places a huge responsibility on professionals in our industries to ensure that the developments are for the collective good.
BT chief researcher John Davies noted that with the costs of IoT sensors falling, power consumption decreasing, and the use of low-power radio access wide area network (LoRaWAN) technology to provide connectivity to sensors, we can expect to see a massive increase in the number of devices – as many have previously predicted.
The basic architecture of IoT comprises four domains: the sensors, the connectivity of those sensors, the data hub that enables the data from all sorts of sensors to be interoperable (rather than stuck in silos), and the applications.
The data hub plays a vital role in presenting the data to the applications in a uniform way, and Davies highlighted the work being done at CityVerve, a smart city demonstrator in Manchester encompassing a smart cycle light trial to understand cycle usage and improve cycle routes, an air quality trail which is linked to traffic density, and a water usage trial for leak management and demand management.
Edge computing will play an important role in reducing connectivity demands, and zero-touch device management will be essential.
Stuart Higgins, head of smart cities and IoT at Cisco, talked about some of the IoT trials and commercial deployments in the UK and worldwide. Many companies are digitising – seeing their operations and products as data to be managed in an IoT context. But only 40% of IoT projects make it past proof of concept for reasons of complexity, security or scale.
These are not insurmountable obstacles, but they do limit the initial application areas. For example, applications in local authorities are focused on air quality monitoring, bin collection, parking availability and street lighting.
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Higgins noted that a proposed new town at Fawley, near Southampton, would be built “from the internet up”, hopefully allowing greater opportunities for IoT deployment. Examples of commercial applications of IoT include intelligent transport systems, which can be used as showcases.
Full-fibre broadband expert and entrepreneur Stefan Stanislawski, managing director of recently established Connect Fibre, asked how a new fibre operator such as his could exploit or offer IoT capabilities.
Connect Fibre is an open access fibre operator that sells its capabilities to service providers, but for Stanislawski, sensor data connectivity is a low-value business opportunity. He usually applies a £100,000 rule to a business opportunity, and most telemetry projects fail to meet that threshold. One possibility might be to deploy LoRa on poles or cabinets as an add-on sales incentive. LoRa operates in the licence-exempt spectrum and has a considerable range.
I myself moderated the panel session, which explored a number of questions around the commercial case for IoT. Why do so few IoT projects make it past proof of concept? Is it that the ecosystem underpinning IoT is not sufficiently in place?
Local authority budget constraints in the UK have restricted smart city applications to smart lighting, parking and bins. The sensor connectivity solutions are reasonably well understood, especially with the use of LoRa. And the standards, particularly of the sensors, the data hub and application programming interfaces (APIs), are being actively addressed in ETSI and by the Network Vendors Interoperability Testing Forum (NVIOT).
Standardised interfaces and APIs are necessary to have the potential to separate the provision of sensors, connectivity, data hub and applications. However, security in such a multi-provider environment becomes the responsibility of all players.
All in all, the piece parts of the IoT ecosystem are falling into place and real-word commercial examples are now there to be seen.