Our round-up of the IoT highlights at this week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 in Barcelona.
Trudging the halls of Mobile World Congress can be a soul-sapping experience. The show’s continued growth in size is hard on the feet, the lack of natural sunlight tough on the eyes and the unavoidable crowds (110,000 people, according to organizers, and many of them glued to mobiles, naturally) push human tolerance to the limits.
But despite the challenges, this year’s show played host to some of the latest and greatest technology demonstrations on the planet, from autonomous vehicles and mixed-reality headsets to robotics and hoverboards.
So what were some of our key IoT takeaways from MWC 2017?
Connected and driverless cars are coming
It’s a sign of just how much technology is changing that every tech exhibition is now seemingly incomplete without a smattering of connected, autonomous or electric cars.
MWC 2017 was no different, with over 20 cars from manufacturers including Daimler, Ford, Jaguar and Peugeot on show. The show even saw the launch of a driverless car series, Roborace.
IoT technologies are driving a lot of these innovations (check out platooning technology, for example), but there are now questions to be asked as to whether society can keep up with them. Cyber-security is one major issue to counter, the impact on road and city infrastructures is another.
Yes, automobiles have the potential to increase capacity and improve safety, but do we have the foresight or the technology and governmental partners to build new roads, new cities even? Can we overcome the tricky ethical issue of around vehicle autonomy, or the idea that buggy software could have disastrous, even tragic, consequences?
Autonomous vehicles are inevitable. It’s simply a question of time, so we need answers – and fast.
Smoke and mirrors as suppliers rebrand as IoT or AI ‘specialists’
It’s remarkable how many MWC-attending data analytics providers were positioning themselves as machine-learning or AI companies. The same trend is seen among enterprise mobility management (EMM) providers restyling themselves as IoT players.
Too many vendors appear to offer ‘silver-bullet solutions’, with little understanding of how their products work with a customer’s existing technology stack. It’s no wonder if CIOs are confused or at least unsure as to what technologies they should deploy and, indeed, even new products are any better to what they have already.
IoT security progress – but what about availability?
IoT security is clearly a massive issue, and for that you can look no further than the Internet-connected teddy bears which this week were found to be leaking two million voice recordings, often interactions between children and their parents. Alternatively, how about the university recently attacked by its own vending machines?
It might be argued that, much like Internet security – which always seems to play second fiddle to product usability and go-to-market speed – IoT security will remain a bolt-on, rather than a feature built into hardware and software by design from the start.
MWC organizer the GSMA hosted IoT security tours to showcase the industry’s supposed progress, and based on my conversations here, action is apparently being taken by hardware makers and mobile operators.
But what about network and cloud availability? In the same week as MWC, Amazon’s S3 outage took thousands of IoT devices and many other web services offline. The backbone of IoT is cloud and it must be reliable. There is little room for downtime in a world where connectivity could sustain human lives and economies.
IoT backbone takes shape
It was heartening to see the core foundations come alive for IoT, what with Softbank CEO saying the recently-acquired ARM will make 1 trillion IoT chips by 2040, NXP pushing new IoT-friendly SOCs and connectivity platforms seemingly working towards increased interoperability on IoT protocols and platforms.
A backbone is gradually being built to cater for and support the IoT.
IIoT challenges show adoption won’t happen overnight
There are plenty of reports on IoT adoption, and ultimately it comes down to which analysts you trust. For all the hype, I am more interested in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s take that IoT isn’t progressing as fast as expected.
IoT going mainstream is inevitable, but it was poignant to note that MWC’s Industrial Internet panels highlighted that even large global manufacturing companies, the poster children of the Industrie 4.0 movement, are forced to contend with issues around adoption.
These issues, such as legacy system integration and shifting business models, will have to be tackled by other companies and other industries at a later date, too.
The IoT will have a transformational effect on society and business. Indeed, it already is in transportation, utilities and cities. However, enterprises need to be realistic about what they can achieve and by when.
The Internet of Me?
Data privacy momentarily reared its head during a panel on consumer data ownership, which inevitably focused largely on the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Julian Ranger, chairman and founder of Digi.me, a company that aims to help users take back control of the personal data they share online, said he hopes to see the arrival of an ‘Internet of Me’, where citizens control their personal data through regulation’s consent and portability requirements. We’ve heard this theory before (there’s even a start-up with this data portability as its USP), and it must be a nightmare, given most firms are struggling to contend with GDPR as it is, let alone with IoT data chucked on top.
LPWAN standards: the battle continues
Tucked away in the NextTech hall there were a number of vendors promoting LoRaWAN technologies, including IoT platform Actility.
NB-IoT, obviously, got a big plug at GSMA’s Innovation City, from connected seals to screwdrivers (supposedly live in an Asian factory today, thanks to China Mobile, Ericsson and Intel).
All major commercial deployments are set for next year once the 3GPP has signed off on the final specification. Huawei is supposedly planning 30 commercial networks in 20 countries.
The tech runs over existing cell infrastructure from operators, and GSMA head of partnerships Peter Montgomery told me that NB-IoT offers benefits such as always-on connectivity and availability (an issue for LoRa and Sigfox in some areas), faster data rates and operating on licensed spectrum.
Cisco Jasper also spoke of completing live trials of NB-IoT on its Control Center connectivity platform, making it one of the first IoT platforms to support the cellular standard.
Expect this fight to go on – because NB-IoT, despite predictions of its demise, has a big future.