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IoT Asia Looks to Head Off Next-Generation Networking Challenges

With 75.4 billion devices set to be IoT-enabled by 2025, many old school businesses lack the networking capacity to handle the tsunami of data coming their way, with victory on this new digital frontier set to go to the first-movers.

Photo: With 86% of Asian business set for IoT connection, the Internet of Things ain’t what it used to be... (Shutterstock.com)
With 86% of Asian business set for IoT connection, the Internet of Things ain't what it used to be...
Photo: With 86% of Asian business set for IoT connection, the Internet of Things ain’t what it used to be... (Shutterstock.com)
With 86% of Asian business set for IoT connection, the Internet of Things ain't what it used to be...

"Making $ense in a Connected World" was the somewhat bold mission statement trotted out for IoT Asia, the Singapore-staged expo that bills itself as the continent's first platform to truly address the transformational potential of the Internet of Things revolution. And transformational it may well be given the numbers involved.

According to a recent report by Bain, the Massachusetts-headquartered management-consultancy group, the annual global revenue from the sale of IoT-related hardware, software and business solutions will be about US$470 billion by 2020. Similarly optimistic is a new study from IHS Markit, a London-based data analyst, which sees IoT penetration growing from its 2015 level of 15.4 billion devices to 30.7 billion by 2020, expanding to 75.4 billion by 2025. A March 2017 survey from Aruba, Hewlett Packard's dedicated networking subsidiary, meanwhile, indicates that 86% of organisations based in the Asia-Pacific region will have some IoT commitment by 2019.

Expanding on those findings, Chris Kozup, Aruba's Vice-President for Marketing, said: "While 39% of executives polled expect their IoT strategies to yield huge business efficiency improvements, actual results show that more than half of those who had already embraced IoT [51%] enjoyed considerable gains in business efficiency.

"With the business benefits accruing from IoT surpassing expectations, it's no surprise that the commercial world will have moved towards mass adoption by 2019. With many executives unsure of how to apply IoT to their business, however, those who succeed in implementing the required protocols will undoubtedly gain a considerable competitive advantage."

Any such implementation, however, will face a number of key challenges, particularly with regard to networking. Highlighting, this, Charles Reed Anderson, a Singapore-based specialist IoT consultant, said: "Many of the existing networks lack the capacity to handle the connectivity demands of IoT devices. As a consequence, this will be the year that low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) start to come into their own.

"Essentially, LPWANs are able to operate with greater power efficiency over a longer range while requiring less expenditure than traditional networks. This is particularly important with IoT devices that are located in remote or inaccessible areas. In such cases, battery life needs to be measured in years rather than in weeks or months. Used properly, LPWANs can also deliver potential cost savings of around 90%."

Reed also outlined the various advantages of the three most-popular LPWANs protocols, NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox. NB-IoT, also known as NarrowBand IoT, is the LPWAN option best suited to mobile operators, specifically for indoor coverage. LoRa, by contrast, is the preferred option for regional, national or global coverage, which has seen it frequently specified for use by citywide networks and larger businesses. Sigfox's strength, meanwhile, lies in its low-energy consumption and suitability for securely connecting physical devices to the cloud.

Looking at the wider picture, Reed also saw a need for greater collaboration between the different players in the IoT sector, saying: "We need to move from an infrastructure-centric focus to more of a citizen-centric approach. In time, we will see the emergence of dedicated IoT OTT [Over The Top audio, video, and other media content delivered over the internet without the involvement of a multiple-system operator] service providers.

"These providers will be able to aggregate the information from multiple building-management systems as the vast majority of them all run on the same protocol. They can turn information overload into actionable intelligence. Vendors and suppliers need to collaborate and the use of LPWANs will make this possible."

Photo: IoT time: Debating the digital future.
IoT time: Debating the digital future.
Photo: IoT time: Debating the digital future.
IoT time: Debating the digital future.
Photo: The Sigfox stand at IoT Asia 2017.
The Sigfox stand at IoT Asia 2017.
Photo: The Sigfox stand at IoT Asia 2017.
The Sigfox stand at IoT Asia 2017.

Looking at the wider opportunities emerging across a variety of business sectors, Sanket Amberkar, Vice-President for Innovations and New Ventures at Singapore-headquartered high-tech manufacturer Flex, said: "By 2025, we expect the use of IoT technology to have led to a 20% reduction in chronic diseases, equating to savings of some $2 trillion in the healthcare sector. We also expect a 5% improvement in the efficiency of energy generation and transmission, a savings of half a trillion. In the transportation sector, we expect savings of $200 billion, while in agriculture a 20% increase in crop yields will result in an additional $100 billion in revenue.

"Back in 2000, none of the world's 500 million farms had sensors. By 2025, some 600 million will be in use in the agricultural sector. In 2015, 15% of cars were digitally connected. By 2025, that figure will be 90%.

"The overall IoT market is huge and no one can do it all. The challenge now is to increase co-operation, allowing businesses to jointly innovate. This will see products brought to market more quickly, ultimately benefitting end-users.

"In terms of the future, there will be huge leaps forward in terms of battery life, security and data-transfer rates. Even now, printed batteries are being looked at, as well as systems that can harvest energy and charge wirelessly. For its part, connectivity will be driven by LPWANs and 5G networks, providing higher data rates at a lower cost and reduced levels of power consumption. At the same time, security will be enhanced by improved data encryption and more sophisticated hardware solutions."

In terms of concrete benefits to businesses, a number of delegates to the conference provided insights into just how IoT had transformed their own operations. Representing the logistics sector, Kumaraguru Nadaysen, Director of Finance for PT Serasi Autoraya, a Jarkarta-based transport-management business, said: "For us, IoT means far more than just relying on GPS to track our fleet. In fact, it has enabled us to optimise cost efficiencies, enhance safety and security, and increase vehicle and driver productivity. Beyond that, it has seen us become more reliable and allowed us to create a range of new products and services.

"In the first two months following implementation, we logged more than five million kilometres. Now, the next step is to further enhance our asset utilisation, incorporate predictive maintenance and generate additional revenue through our new services."

On the industrial side, Keith O'Byrne, Head of Solutions for Asavie, a Dublin-based specialist in connectivity software, outlined the impact his company's IoT systems had made within the factory environment. He said: "With smartphones and similar devices, it doesn't really matter if they can't run the new IOS or Android operating system, as they are only designed to be used for two to three years. Industrial machinery and robotics, however, have a work life that runs to decades.

"In the case of industrial devices, though, they often don't need direct access to the central network, which actually solves a number of security issues. Instead of using the internet, then, we use private IPs, which ensure greater security. In reality, industrial devices should connect only in line with user requirements and scheduling, rather than all of the time."

Taking a national perspective, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the country's Smart Nation initiative, said: "The impact of IoT is – and will continue to be – immense. Jobs will be disrupted and middle-class white-collar workers and wages will be affected. And this will all happen very quickly.

"The people, companies, and nations who are the first to truly master this technology will have enormous reach across a truly global market. For us, the challenge is to democratise these new technologies, ultimately empowering all of our citizens to harvest these opportunities in as broad a fashion as possible."

Photo: Getting connected: Digital delegates from across Asia attended the two-day event.
Getting connected: Digital delegates from across Asia attended the two-day event.
Photo: Getting connected: Digital delegates from across Asia attended the two-day event.
Getting connected: Digital delegates from across Asia attended the two-day event.

IoT Asia 2017 took place from 29-30 March at the Singapore Expo.

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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