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The future of the IoT: from edge computing to 5G

(Image credit: O2)

The number of devices connected to the Internet is set to explode next year. Among the various figures predicting its growth, Gartner has stated the enterprise and automotive Internet of Things (IoT) market alone is expected to increase to 5.8bn endpoints in 2020. While statistics vary on the exact number of IoT devices in use today, we do know the rate of IoT adoption is incredibly high – and that it will only continue to transform the way we work, both now and in future.

Connectivity has existed since the inception of the Internet, meaning that the IoT is by no means a new phenomenon. However, the level of data generated as a result of devices connecting to the Internet is new – as is the way we access that data. Essentially, by tapping into rich datasets and gleaning important insights, businesses are able to tailor their processes, deliver personalised user experiences and identify new opportunities to drive a competitive business edge.

We don’t have to look far to see evidence of the rapid uptake of the IoT and the benefits it can bring to a company. That said, ensuring IoT success requires businesses to carefully consider a few crucial wider trends – including the evolution of edge computing and advancements in 5G.

Moving to the edge

Edge computing refers to every device that gathers data outside of a large data centre. Traditionally, devices did not have the level of compute or the storage capabilities required to hold and analyse data, so it was sent to the cloud to be examined. However, more frequently, these devices are now being created with embedded functionality, enabling them to apply machine learning and analytics to derive useful insights from data. 

Ultimately, given that information and insights can be almost instantly accessed, these new features allow businesses to process data in a faster, more cost effective and streamlined way. In addition, storing data locally within devices reduces the requirement for low latency and bandwidth – lessening stress on the network.

The need for global standardisation

A number of issues are arising across industries today as a consequence of disjointed IoT supply chains, comprising of sensors not programmed to “talk” to one another. On the flip side, a connected supply chain provides a holistic view of the full operation as sensors can understand each other and, in turn, work in tandem. This means that all suppliers are able to contribute to the process.

Creating a connected supply chain requires the elimination of vendor-lock in. This can be achieved through global standardisation. This way, organisations can establish interoperability among products and services to allow information to flow freely between sensors. Put simply, creating a standardised, interoperable platform will be key for businesses looking to optimise their IoT network.

Global standardisation initiatives have been discussed amongst standards bodies and regulatory organisations for a number of years now. However, we can expect to see some real changes take place here in the coming years as businesses increasingly rely on the IoT. 

IoT security challenges

Although the advent of the IoT offers a variety of business advantages, it has also brought with it a number of complex security concerns.

With more devices connecting to the Internet each day, the cyberattack surface area is becoming wider and more diverse than ever before. There are now a great deal of access points available to malicious actors looking to infiltrate a company’s network. To use a tangible example, building a connected car now includes a number of different manufacturers, suppliers, systems and sensors. This makes it challenging to ascertain who or what is responsible for the security of the end product.

With that in mind, we’re beginning to see IT leaders use innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning, to overcome IoT security challenges. However, there is still a long way to go and, until then, always-on security processes will be vital.

5G and IoT innovation

The introduction of 5G is transforming a variety of areas that go beyond just mobile connections. In fact, the high speed connections, lower latencies and extended locations that go hand-in-hand with 5G connectivity allows for new IoT use cases. Looking ahead, with 5G promising to allow organisations to collect and analyse data in real time, IoT applications will increase and become even more innovative.

It’s important to note that we are still in the early stages of a 5G revolution. Although it doesn’t currently have the ability to completely overhaul the IoT industry, over the next year we should expect to see it advance IoT progress significantly.

IoT does not exist in a vacuum: for it to reach its full potential, industry leaders need to be aware of the wider picture. And by keeping a watchful eye on existing challenges and developments across the technology sector, they will be better positioned to spur IoT applications and services forward at a rapid pace.

Thomas Di Giacomo, president of engineering, product and innovation, SUSE

Thomas has more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry, currently driving the innovation and growth of SUSE’s portfolio from the enterprise Linux operating system to software-defined products.