The state of the connected world and the challenges that go with it

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Industry 4.0 has ushered in new important technologies such as wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT), and they are already transforming business as usual by increasingly allowing for the automatic control of everything – from construction to production to logistics. Connected devices are just about everywhere, and beyond business, they are transforming our lives.

The number of interconnected digital and electronic devices in operation globally is nearly twice the number of people on the planet – 13 billion devices. From vending machines, factories and logistics to smart cars, smart homes and smart cities, the devices are talking to each other. Now more than ever manufacturers need to take measures to ensure that sufficient interoperability, privacy and security is in place to find continued consumer acceptance, and pre-market testing can help.

Interoperability

Internet of Things (IoT) is a megatrend that manufacturers cannot afford to ignore. It is expected that IoT will connect as many as 28 billion devices by 2020, from wearables to smart home devices to connected cars. Interoperability plays an important role to help IoT reach its full market potential. IoT devices rely on various protocols to “talk to” each other and the internet.

To many, interoperability is just a “check the box” item on an organisations to do list. What they don’t realise is that interoperability has the potential to unlock more than $4 trillion from IoT usage by 2025. According to PWC’s Connected Home 2.0 Report, households will spend approximately £10.8bn on smart devices in 2019, and interoperability will be key to this adoption.

Though interoperability is invisible to the consumer, it is essential that manufacturers ensure their IoT device can communicate seamlessly. Consumers want products that are simple to use, reliable and compatible with their existing high-functioning electronic devices. If a gadget can’t receive and process information and act upon that information, the product won’t work as consumers expect it to. Unintended interaction between any electronics and emissions from the equipment can have adverse impact on other electronic devices or radio systems – and without full functionality, the product may not provide value.

In 2017, TechUK’s State of the Connected Home Report found that 16 per cent of people are apprehensive about the ability of technology to communicate across different systems. The expectations for connecting products to smart homes, smart cars and smart cities are high. Consumers request out-of-the-box functionality - wanting interoperability - which encompasses multiple devices and settings, with little or no extra configurations. This introduces both technical and communication challenges for the industry around what devices operate in which ecosystem. Helping to ensure cross-protocol communication and maintaining connectivity strength and secure connections is key to safer and more secure products.

Privacy and safety

For now, interoperability issues among smart devices have largely been contained to performance. However, what happens when communication discrepancies bleed into privacy and safety — like having a security camera hacked, or having a broken smoke alarm? PWC’s Report also shows that privacy concerns represent a significant barrier to adoption for 22 per cent of consumers who do not already own smart technology. This is particularly true for data, as consumers are becoming more aware of the power of data, the security of data and how that data is used. Having established standard operating frameworks in place will help address the issue of interoperability and aid continuous data sharing amongst devices, stakeholders and locations.

Despite significant consumer scepticism to smart device security, artificial intelligence is giving us new means of combating cyber threats by outwitting them. The security of connected consumer devices is not just a matter of interest to the customers who use these devices, it is increasingly becoming a matter of national interest. Malware that can take control of, and subvert the operation of, connected systems has been used to launch some of the largest attacks on the Internet that have ever been seen. The connected nature of these systems also means security must be considered for any ‘apps’ that run on separate systems (such as the consumer’s phone), as well as ‘cloud’ services.

With more and more products needing wireless capability to compete in a rapidly changing market place, there is a need to make sure products function both safely and flawlessly in real-world environments. Without external support, it can be difficult to predict what sources of error, interference and, thus, dissatisfaction may appear when a device gets into the hands of real users. Whatever the innovation, whatever the product, it cannot succeed if it is not safe. This is why pre-market testing is so important to helping ensure product safety.

Testing

For manufacturers, the future potential is clear and present, but great opportunity is sometimes accompanied by great risk. To address the challenges within interoperability, privacy and safety, proper testing is important to help organisations avoid the unfortunate consequences of overlooked details.

Across connected devices, companies should not only test all electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and wireless requirements to make sure devices are properly communicating during normal operating conditions, but also look at what happens when the Wi-Fi goes down, when there is a low internet signal, when the power goes out, and all possible scenarios which may affect connected devices.

Manufacturers need to be ready to understand market demands, keep up with the latest technology and innovations and be certain their products are ready for the market. Smart cars, smart homes and smart cities are ripe for innovation, but successful innovation is more than having a clever idea. It means being able to transform that idea into a product that meets a perceived need at a particular time, is safe for consumers and works well.

As such, interoperability provides the opportunity for major and rapid growth. Testing can not only save significant resources in the long term, but also help to create better product reviews, loyal customers and increased sales. Whatever the industry, that trust is a fragile thing. Consumers must believe in a brand, and a product. They must believe that performance will occur as promised. And safety is ensured. Trust in product and company safety, security, quality and sustainability, is vital.

Phil Davies, EMEA-LA general manager, UL
Photo Credit: bergserg/ Shutterstock