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April 7, 2015updated 22 Sep 2016 11:46am

5 challenges facing the Internet of Things

EXPOSED: One size doesn't fit all in the world of IoT

By Joao Lima

We have looked into IoT start-ups, wearables, apps and more. But like everything else in life there is always a down side to things. In an industry that will be worth over a trillion pounds and have over 24 billion devices connected by 2020, issues regarding IoT have arisen that need to be addressed to prevent an IoT catastrophe in the years to come.

The problem is, current solutions will definitely not fit the ever hungry IoT monster.

So, while you connect your new console, your fridge or your latest fitness band, have a think and look out for the next five challenges that IoT is facing right now.

1. Security & Safety

Security is the key element of any technology and IoT still has some more – big – steps to take.

With millions of things already connected to the web and billions set to become connected in the future, operational technology security providers will have to work hard to ensure malware doesn’t penetrate your smart meter or your fridge.

Recently, Garnet published a study where it exposed that as many as 26 billion devices will be connected via IoT by 2020. Although, it has also been said that hackers will not target their fridge or ceiling fan but will aim at businesses.

Carl Leonard, Principal Security Analyst at Websense, said: "…the real threat from IoT will likely occur in a business environment over consumer. Every new internet-connected device in a business environment further increases a business attack surface."

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Many developers seem to agree on the need for a set of standards, such as IPv6, that will help with adoption and penetration of IoT in the market.

Richard Moulds, VP Strategy at Thales e-Security, said: "The scale, complexity and geographic spread of IoT networks, coupled with the amount of data that makes them tick, make them highly vulnerable.

"A main reason for these concerns is that the devices themselves are often in vulnerable locations, may have very little physical protection, and the networks through which they communicate can’t always be trusted."

"This makes them a prime target for malicious hackers and cyber-criminals. It’s not just about the devices themselves, it’s also the back-end systems, the points of aggregation where data from millions of devices is collected and analysed – where decisions get taken and instructions issued.

"Compromise at the centre could drive breaches the scale of which we’ve never seen before. Building trust across these huge scale, distributed systems must be a main priority for companies seeking to implement a successful IoT adoption strategy."

2. Data Management

Let’s be clear: without data there is no IoT. Data is the petrol of this industry and it needs to be kept safe and managed to ensure users benefit from everything IoT, M2M and other services have to offer.

In a world where everything is connected there will be tonnes of data floating around. But there is always the risk of that data being misused stolen, as well as services providers not being able to cope with so much information being created 24/7.

To store this data we have data centres. The old system for data centres has been converted via virtualisation. But even though this model is pretty recent (at a larger scale), companies are already looking into the next big thing: the cloud.

Large scale data deployment can lead to users becoming confused between data ownership and copyrights.

Like those nuisance calls we get almost daily, services providers will have to work hard in order to keep data away from third parties. Can you imagine your fridge sending you an ad alert to your phone about discount ice trays? Exactly. This kind of issue will be a reality if databases are not kept safe.

Currently, Big Data solutions by companies like MySQL and Hadoop deal with scale, capacity and processing tasks. In connection with other companies like Severalnines, software management is becoming ever easier. But the big challenge lies at the heart of IoT: so far IT has not had to deal with a unique dataset on its own. Current data makes it to databases the same way unstructured data does.

Fabrizio Biscotti, Gartner’s research director, said: "Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centres, leaving providers facing new security, capacity and analytics challenges."

Gartner estimates that storage servers are only being used at a 30% to 50% of capacity. If that is true, it means that the current solutions can still motor and IoT pre-worldwide connected society. Although, questions on how to manage the data remain.

Joe Skorupa, Gartner’s vice president, commented: "Data centre managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in these areas to be able to proactively meet the business priorities associated with IoT.

"IoT threatens to generate massive amounts of input data from sources that are globally distributed. Transferring the entirety of that data to a single location for processing will not be technically and economically viable.

"Data centre operations and providers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management platforms that can include a data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) system approach of aligning IT and operational technology (OT) standards and communications protocols to be able to proactively provide the production facility to process the IoT data points based on the priorities and the business needs."

3. Battery Life

Like your phone or your tablet, devices need energy. We have become used to charge our phone on a daily basis, far from those days where the good old Nokia 3310 lasted for a week. Current wearables also have a limited battery life capacity. For example, Samsung‘s Gear Fit lasts just over three days.

Current systems will not be enough for existing IoT expectations and the industry will have to look into different options to charge devices. Solar energy is set to become the biggest trend. Installing slim and transparent solar panels on phones, cars and even buildings has already started providing consumers to keep going without ever having to worry about looking for the nearest plug.

Other technologies are being explored: for example, British company Perpetuum uses electromagnetic energy to recharge devices. The technology captures vibration via a magnet which traverses across a fixed coil creating a varying amount of magnetic flux.

Thermal and RF are also being introducing to power devices and stretch batteries’ lives.

In the future, devices’ battery life will have to run for years, and at the same time they will have the mission of saving costs and being green efficient. This is the challenge for enterprises: to find a balance between energy cost and efficiency of their devices. Something similar was achieved by ZigBee and its 6LoWPAN-based light switch which runs on coin cell battery for 10 years. WiFi based sensors have too been developed to run on 2xAA batteries or over a year.

Recently, researchers at ETH Zurich University developed a new type of glass material that has the properties to double a smartphone battery life.

Electrochemical Materials Institute scientist Semih Afyon said: "Borate is a glass former; that’s why the borate compounds were used, and the resulting glass compound is a new kind of material, neither V2O5 nor LiBO2 at the end.

"One major advantage of vanadate-borate glass is that it is simple and inexpensive to manufacture."

The energy puzzle is not complete without CPUs. The processing units are being pushed to a limit and are in need of further investigation. CPU consumption got aggravated by the rising number of IoT enabled devices signalling and sending data between one another.

4. Multiple Connectivity

How many times have you lost connection on your phone? How many times has your Bluetooth stop working? How many times have we not experienced internet loss? Now imagine this happening in an age where everything you use daily needs connectivity to function.

Standard WiFi connectivity does not serve the purpose of IoT anymore. The average 22.8 Mbps broadband speed in the UK will have to be boosted. And the country is not even the worst in this wifi league.

As IoT develops, connectivity becomes an ever growing issue. The thirst for more hot spots will lead to the instalment of several wireless routers across cities. But the question is not if this is achievable, the question is when and how much will it cost to keep going.

In order for your data to run smoothly between A and B, reliable bidirectional signalling solutions will have to take shape for collection and routing of data between devices.

5G Wifi for homes, like the one developed by Broadcom and 5G for mobile phones will help users experience a better internet connection with faster resources and an interrupted service across larger areas.

Furthermore, when we talk about connectivity we have to explore which IoT enabled devices will connect to the cloud. An ecosystem of cloud partners (including names like IBM, Exosite and ARM, will be the main pathway to make seamless integration possible. This will give enterprises more time to work on new devices and services meeting individual needs of manufacturers.

Professor Dr. Michael Capone, Principal Business Analyst at Capgemini, said: "Connected services will change the relationship between manufacturers and their customers, because all possible channels can be used to create a unique proactive service experience.

"Using reliable forecasts, the areas of sales, maintenance, and customer service can be considerably optimised as well as adapted to individual customer requirements. Additional uses of this service include connected cars, connected manufacturing and fleet management."

5. Adoption of Business Plans

Maybe something not taken into consideration by many, but equally important. Companies’ highway to IoT and all what the cloud has to offer might not be that easy. The systems behind IoT are sometimes way too complex for a simple mortal to understand. Therefore, there is an urgency to create platforms that allow more designers to develop IoT driven solutions.

Companies will have to be swift in the next couple of years. They will have to rethink their strategies in order to stay alive in this new phase of evolution.

Adoption of IoT by businesses is believed to slow down as confusion prevails within organisations due to the increasingly number of multiple platforms, protocols and large sets of APIs. This last one will take project teams to an extreme.

Kathryn Pribish, Voice of IT programme manager at Spiceworks, said: "The data technology trends we’ve seen emerge over the past few years, like BYOD, coupled with the IoT will have a dramatic impact on how IT professionals do their jobs.

"IT professionals understand the inevitability of the IoT but the reality is, though the impact will be gradual, resource-strained IT departments and others who haven’t jumped on the IoT bandwagon will be playing catch-up if they don’t adequately prepare."

As a cycle, the slower adoption of the technology and unanticipated development resource requirements will likely make decision makers rethink their strategy. Revenue will also take longer to be achieved requiring additional funding for IoT projects. Startups will also find it a lot harder to break into the market, whatever their business is.

Greg Ford, Managing Director of Advanced Field Service, said: "Balancing costs and resources will always be a key priority for businesses and those which fail to invest in new technology could be at a disadvantage against their competitors.

"Many service management organisations already rely on connected devices to determine the location of their field resources. M2M is a natural extension of this and uses predictive and prescriptive analytics to reduce reactive works and increase planned maintenance and first-time fix, providing a rapid ROI."

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