Businesses need help to understand the requirements of an IoT project

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The period coming up over Christmas and the New Year is always a time for reflection about the past year, but also a time to reset expectations and plans for the future. A couple of recent conversations about what is happening on the ground in the IoT market have given me cause to pause and rethink some of my priorities for the coming year.

I know it is part of an analyst’s job to highlight and evaluate new technologies and what they might mean for business. But sometimes we can get a little carried away with the shiny new technology and forget that implementing and getting real benefit from it isn’t always obvious. I think the Internet of Things (IoT) has been afflicted by this issue. We have all got very excited by the thought of a world of interconnected things. 5th Generation mobile network technology (5G) will solve all the communications problems and, of course, it will all sit in a wonderful Fog and Edge computing architecture, whatever that means. The reality for most business leaders is very different.

The initial challenge about identifying use cases and business benefit is being tackled, albeit many examples are really still only in the pilot phase. But these early implementations of IoT, or more specifically, Industrial IoT (IIoT) are starting to highlight other issues. The common thread is the lack of knowledge and understanding amongst business and IT leaders about what, technically, needs to be pulled together to deliver an IoT solution.

I mentioned earlier about a couple of conversations. The first was with Richard Simmons, the Head of European Centre for Excellence for IoT at Logicalis. As a systems integrator, Logicalis has been steadily building a comprehensive IoT practice built on its own IoT platform development and implementation experiences in Latin America, along with some astute tactical acquisition of skills in Europe. Richard highlighted two specific inhibitors to the rapid implementation of IoT. The first was cultural. This is less about resistance to IoT, and more about a lack of understanding between departments, for example Facilities and IT, about roles and responsibilities. But he also highlighted the somewhat fragmented nature of the device manufacturers landscape which results in the need to pull together significant numbers of suppliers whose products often don’t fit together naturally from a standards and interoperability point of view.

The second conversation was with Marc Irwin, Manager Marketing at Thingstream. Thingstream provides low-power, low-cost, ubiquitous IoT connectivity via the OASIS and OSI standard MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol over GSM networks globally. Put simply, this means connecting IoT devices in geographically dispersed locations that have no wireless or local area network connectivity via mobile phone signals.  Like Richard, Marc also highlighted the need to educate end-users about what needs to be put together. Thingstream have spent the last couple of years developing their eco-system of device manufacturers and IoT platform providers to ensure integration out of the box across as wide a range of devices as possible. Now, they are turning their attention to educating the market about what is needed to put an IoT solution together.

One particular example Marc gave highlighted the issue. Thingstream say they provide IoT Communications-as-a-Service. A number of other vendors say they provide the same sort of service, but in reality, it is only the provision of a SIM and a contract. Quite apart from the fact that if you use a SIM based approach for global connectivity users will have to navigate different charging structures, Marc states that there 9 elements between the device manufacturer and the enterprise that need to be managed. Many customers buying a simple SIM based service don’t realise they will then need to be responsible for managing those other elements.

I’ll come back to a more detailed look at Thingstream’s IoT connectivity solution at a later date, but as well as the issue of understanding the complexity of IoT design, deployment and operation, I wanted to highlight something about not always needing the newest, shiniest technology. Thingstream’s connectivity platform uses second generation (2G) mobile connectivity. The amount of data being transmitted is very low, so bandwidth isn’t an issue. 2G networks are ubiquitous, unlike newer 4G (never mind 5G) networks. So, wherever you are you can get a signal (the Thingstream enabled device simply connects to the strongest signal). Again, put simply, it just works.  When countries start turning off old 2G mobile networks, Thingstream do have alternatives in place. But it just goes to prove that you don’t always need the latest shiny tech!