IoT refers to the billions of physical devices (besides laptops and smart phones) that connect to the internet — and can include anything from smart lights to jet engines. These devices use sensors to monitor and communicate information, meaning complicated activities can be examined (and responded to) in real-time. It’s one of the most highly anticipated trends of 2021, but will it deliver?
Why is IoT such a hot topic right now?
IoT has gained such momentum because of the accelerated digital transformation caused by the pandemic. According to the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), almost half (49%) of UK consumers have purchased one or more IoT devices since the pandemic began. Despite some IoT dependent industries being hit hard during the pandemic, (such as automotive) overall demand for IoT has increased. According to Microsoft’s IoT Signal’s Report, more companies are using IoT for the first time and more users are reliant on IoT as an essential part of their operations — 90% of enterprise leaders describe IoT as critical and 95% expected their reliance on IoT to increase. In addition, 1/3 of enterprises stated they were specifically increasing IoT investment due to the pandemic.
A big part of the increased industry need for the technology is driven by desire to increase efficiency and reduce costs. IoT can be used to gather huge amounts of data and monitor it in real-time. Digitally-savvy organisations are using IoT alongside AI and other data analytics tools to create digital twins — a virtual representation of real-world observations — and using these insights for everything from streamlining manufacturing to improving customer service.
While 2021 looks hopeful for IoT adoption, there are several challenges that could impede progress. Security concerns, lack of standardisation and dependence on infrastructure being among them.
Security concerns: security has been notoriously lax when it comes to IoT. IT teams have expressed the difficultly of keeping networks secure in the face of numerous IoT vulnerabilities. Digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman also said, ‘Our phones and smart devices can be a gold mine for hackers looking to steal data, yet a great number still run older software with holes in their security systems.’
However, upcoming legislation may help with this. The UK’s ‘security by design’ law aims to create legally binding security requirements for almost all virtual smart devices. This should force manufacturers to improve security at the device level and may assuage concerns among those still hesitant to adopt IoT.
Infrastructure: IoT requires fast and reliable broadband to reach its full potential. Therefore, it is heavily reliant on existing infrastructure, such as 5G. The increased bandwidth and network speed of 5G would enable more IoT devices to be connected and to run efficiently. While 5G roll-out has been delayed by COVID-19, security issues and political factors, there has been renewed government commitment to establishing the UK as a leader in 5G technology. With the number of tech giants also supporting the roll-out, 5G could help to further boost IoT development during 2021.
Standardisation: IoT at its full potential should provide a seamless, interconnected experience for the user. However, the lack of industry standardisation on IoT features such as operating systems, development frameworks and architecture holds the dream of a fully integrated network back. Establishing legal security requirements is the first move towards solving this issue, but more regulation is needed so that all devices follow a set of agreed-upon standards.
To summarise, 2021 is looking positive for IoT. Many organisations are already capitalising on the opportunities the technology offers and are continuing to invest. However, the extent to which IoT emerges as the hero technology of 2021 depends upon how genuine concerns over security, infrastructure and standardisation are addressed.