by John Koon, Editor-in-Chief
IDC, a global market intelligence firm, projects the total Internet-of-Things (IoT) spending will double to reach $1.3 trillion by 2020. USA alone will be spending $386 billion. (Source: IDC Worldwide Semiannual Internet of Things Spending Guide, version 2016H1). Wireless connection is not new so why the sudden excitement? The emergence of analytics, big data, low cost connections and most importantly the practice of the meaningful use of data has achieved something never imagined possible before.
Soon, Smart Manufacturing will no longer be a slogan but a requirement to be successful. In production, efficiency means profit and a line down can be disastrous. IoT can provide preventive maintenance support by, say, monitoring the temperature profile of machines and give early warning before overheating occurs. Another example is efficient supply chain management. Remember the time you were in front of a vendor machine and the empty light lit up when you pressed the button waiting for your favorite bottle water? In situation like this, not only is the customer disappointed, the supplier loses the opportunity of selling products. With IoT, the vending machine will detect if inventory is running low and inform the warehouse to dispatch a truck to refill the vending machine. Customers never experience “empty”. The same solution can apply to industrial application to ensure propane will never run out. Suppliers will be able to deliver propane to the industrial sites before customers even realize they need to reorder; more sales and more satisfied customers. And the list goes on and on.
Advantages of LTE Connection and Challenges
There are many competing offerings of IoT connections in the market. The main advantages of LTE are that it can use the infrastructure already in place including building and operating of cell towers, established channels and billing systems. The costs of such infrastructure involve time, planning, construction, experience, hardware and software installation, finance and management and they can run into billions of dollars. LTE has the competitive advantage of using existing operation to serve new customers and applications.
The IoT opportunities also attracted hackers around the world. In recently years, hackers are more sophisticated and innovative. What used to be disruptive and annoying behaviors have turned into a scheme to distort money from hospitals, banks and business of all sorts. For example, in recently months, hospitals have been attacked by ransomware. Unless they pay ransom to the attackers, their IT systems would not be functional. A lot of these attackers reside overseas and are not under the jurisdiction of the United States. Other attacks include taking over controls of connected vehicles by hackers, malicious software sent to vehicles via the automakers’ software upgrade systems, the disruption of bring down power grids and more. Additionally, the fear of medical devices being hacked has been on the minds of many security experts. Cyberattacks will only get worse. How to overcome these challenges?
Pros and Cons of Discrete Design vs. Modules
Successful IoT connections require integration of software, hardware and wireless technologies. Seamless connection to LTE is easier said than done. On the hardware side, generally there are two approaches; design with discrete components from the ground up versus using a module. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. If the end goal is to have high-volume production, the discrete approach may be more cost effective. On the other hand, for small to medium volume, designing with modules can potentially shorten development (and test) time and bring products to market faster. Even in the high-volume scenario, many designers would use modules for proof of concept and prototyping; then switch to discrete as volume increases.
What Does the Future Hold?
IoT is almost certain to continue to grow worldwide. New IoT applications will be uncovered continuously. Various industries will rely on IoT to gain the competitive edge. Hackers and developers will continue to get smarter and the race between cyberattacks and cybersecurity will heat up. IoT companies will dash to bring products out. To balance opportunities and security, you need to be proactive.