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Italy wakes up to new IoT opportunities

Organisations in Italy are investing in internet-connected technologies, with infrastructure providers building the underpinning networks

The internet of things (IoT), coupled with different though convergent technologies such as cloud computing and big data, is revolutionising the world around us, putting intelligence and connectivity directly into objects.

With more than eight million internet-connected devices, Italy is one of the biggest machine-to-machine (M2M) markets in Europe, with high annual growth expected in coming years.

IoT is providing the Italian market with opportunities to create products and services, bringing value for governments, citizens and businesses.

Even at its early stage, the IoT phenomenon is creating smart cities, smart homes and smart factories, and is raising interest across sectors.

IoT network services

It is no surprise operators want to secure a place in what seems to be one of the most promising technology revolutions – and EI Towers is no exception. The Italian telecoms operator, owned by Mediaset, is moving aggressively to provide innovative IoT network services, in an attempt to compete with Inwit, owned by Telecom Italia.

To fulfil its plan, EI Towers has become a SigFox Network Operator (SNO) and will deploy and manage a SigFox IoT network across Italy through its internet service provider subsidiary Nettrotter. The aim is to provide a seamless global IoT network that supports a wide array of applications.

The large-scale SigFox roll-out for Italy is already underway, and Nettrotter plans to achieve national coverage, with almost 1,000 installed SigFox base stations. 

The first phase of the network deployment roadmap is to provide coverage in the two largest Italian cities, Milan and Rome, in the first quarter of 2016. The roll-out is then expected to expand across the rest of Italy in 2017.

Italian investment in IoT was around €1,95bn in 2015 (28% up from 2014), according to Osservatorio Internet of Things, a data market source provided by technical university Politecnico di Milano. There is currently a real turning point, as IoT-focused startups are increasingly growing and global players are starting to roll out new initiatives.

Automation through SAP

IoT is giving way to opportunities that extend beyond the traditional IT perimeter. For example, SAP is planning an ambitious project with Italian train operator Trenitalia. The project will be completed in 2019 and aims to automate the maintenance process of every component of each train carriage.

“The development is based on the IoT platform featuring SAP Hana in-memory technology,” said Danilo Gismondi, CIO at Trenitalia. “It will enable us to collect data transmitted by a huge amount of sensors to monitor the state of each single mechanical component, thus improving security and efficiency of the whole fleet.”

Around 700TB of data per year will be transmitted over the corporate virtual private network. The project will help Trenitalia save between 5% and 8% of what is spent on maintenance, creating a cost reduction of at least €70,000 a year.

Many analysts agree the IoT model can act as a game changer, accelerating productivity, overcoming infrastructure gaps and driving innovation. According to a recent study published by Vodafone Italia, the adoption rate of M2M technologies is rapidly increasing.

“Some 38% of Italian companies have used some kind of technology related to this new IT ecosystem. IoT is seen by the majority of organisations as a primary driver of innovation,” said Manlio Costantini, enterprise director of Vodafone Italia.

Industry and IoT

Further improvement and greater research and development can be found in the industrial sector through Industry 4.0. This envisions a network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment. In manufacturing, internet-connected sensors are used to monitor logistics and equipment, helping organisations reduce costs through more efficient operations.

That’s the approach that has been taken by two major industrial brands, Siemens and ABB, through their operations in Italy.

ABB, a global provider of power and automation technologies, sees IoT as a major macro trend on which it will focus its future strategy. The company wants to build a better-automated industrial environment and, at the same time, expand business to areas such as smart buildings.

“The emergence of IoT, enabled by sharply reduced costs in embedded intelligence and wireless communications, is unlocking value in the data created by connected and gateway devices,” said Federico Golla, president and CEO at Siemens Italia.

“These networks of interconnected smart objects, coupled with big data analytics and optimised IT infrastructure, are driving improved operational efficiency, predictive maintenance and real-time automation. They are bound to be very relevant for the future of the company, especially in areas such as manufacturing, energy distribution, transportation systems and healthcare.”

Bticino, a division of the Legrand Group that makes low-voltage electrical equipment targeting living, working and production spaces, is another example of how IoT is changing manufacturing.

Bticino recently announced Eliot, a brand that integrates products that rely on IoT to address the smarthome market. In 2020, Bticino expects a double-digit annual growth rate driven by the IoT, which is already a reality at Legrand. In 2014, the group generated more than €200m in sales with internet-connected products.

“Whether in the field of emergency lighting, home automation, energy efficiency or sound distribution, Legrand has an innovative connected offering to meet the needs of users for electrical and digital building infrastructures,” said Franco Villani, CEO at Bticino.

“The explosion of the market for connected devices is opening up a new era for buildings, which will lead to growth in the so-called smart systems for both private individuals and professionals, in both commercial and industrial buildings.”

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