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IoT devices evolve as transformative technologies like AI and 5G converge

03 July 2019 Tom Hackenberg

For nearly a decade now, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been part of a small and select group of transformative technologies—significant forces of change that owing to their nature, have altered the way business and industry operate in basic, fundamental ways.

Yet the mass market's fascination and ardor for all things IoT is a more recent phenomenon. And because interest in the IoT ecosystem has never been greater, new IoT devices seeking to achieve differentiation and success often focus on the novel or innovative features they bring to the market.

Originally embodying connectivity properties that enabled them to communicate, IoT devices have grown increasingly sophisticated since their inception. In the early days of the internet, dumb appliances could be instantly converted into IoT devices through microcontrollers in the appliance, which then joined with its IoT connectivity source through a wireless low-power network like Bluetooth or ZigBee.

Today, however, convergence has brought about intelligent sensing and connectivity, with transformative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G working in tandem with IoT to unlock technological capabilities in systems and devices never possible before. AI enables new modes of interaction with IoT devices while placing into meaningful context accelerated analytics and data interpretation occurring throughout the IoT ecosystem; and 5G is the linchpin to take technologies to unsurpassed heights of efficiency and innovation through ultra-fast and ultra-low-latency connectivity.

In evolving toward such greatly expand functionality, however, IoT devices have also become more challenging to deploy. At present, successful use and management of the devices is incumbent upon the seamless integration of a host of factors, including security, interoperability, power consumption, and scalability.

Processing power in IoT devices has also grown tremendously in scope and capability, ranging from tiny, power- and cost-effective processors for embedded functions that have limited memory and computing muscle, to high-performance multicore system-on-chip (SoC) solutions enabled with artificial intelligence for natural language interfaces and vision applications.

From consumer to industrial

One interesting trend in the IoT space in the past few years was the rapid growth of consumer devices because their time to market was fast and furious. In the process, many did not recognize the opportunities waiting to be utilized in the industrial arena. But because IoT products are intended for long-term rigorous use, they also take longer to develop—typically two to three years to evolve an adoption strategy, and one to two years for time to market, compared to as little as three to six months for a consumer product. As a result, it is only now that we are seeing IoT stepping into its true opportunity, and industrial IoT products are forecast to outstrip consumer IoT items by as much as two to three times within the next few years.

Compared to consumer IoT devices, industrial IoT gear have salient, distinguishing features designed and built into the equipment to withstand often harsh and unforgiving operating conditions, including extreme temperatures, isolated locations, and inhospitable elements. And because critical and safety considerations are involved in the use of many industrial IoT devices—especially those deployed in sensitive water and power utilities or other public-facing sector—they must pass the test imposed by more onerous requirements relating to the physical properties of the device, unique power and communications parameters, and advanced cyber-security protocols.

The ability to meet intense and demanding requirements, successfully manage industrial connectivity, and optimize processes—all unthinkable only a decade ago—are now entirely feasible with today's industrial IoT devices and solutions. And with transformative technologies beginning to coalesce and effect far-reaching change throughout various industrial spaces, it's little surprise to find industrial IoT gaining greater scale and significance as well.

Tom Hackenberg
is director and senior principal analyst for processors at IHS Markit
Posted 3 July 2019


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