Internet of Things (IoT) is such an overloaded term that it can mean many things to many people or nothing at all. The purpose of this series of articles is to explain what some of these popular terms mean in the context of the latest technologies. Then, I will segue into something much more valuable to learn about – the anatomy of (IoT) “things”, how they fit into the larger Industrial IoT landscape, and what are the key considerations for connected sensors (“things”), especially as they relate to industrial applications.
- IoT not a new concept – has already been proven in use
- New technological capabilities enable amazing new applications
- Very complex system, but can be addressed by ecosystem of experts
- Most IoT applications will be small to medium installation size, growing organically
Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new concept. This technology has proven itself over the last decades in several business applications, such as security, fleet management, and cargo tracking. The basic concept of connecting to remote sensors was referred to as telemetry or M2M (Machine-to-Machine communication). However, what’s new about it is the enormously capable cloud technology combined with the reduced cost, improved reliability and miniaturization of wireless sensor devices that is only now possible by the latest technology advances in semiconductors. This new paradigm is starting to change the business landscape. What has not been feasible nor cost effective before for many businesses is now practical. New levels of increased productivity and cost reduction will grow businesses and improve profit margins.
IoT is an intersection of many disparate technologies and business models under an umbrella of a single, very complex system that fulfills specific business needs. The complexity is the result of many advanced technologies and products, which can be complex individually in their own right, being required to work flawlessly with each other as one system. This requires tremendous expertise in each aspect of the puzzle.
Fortunately, such system complexity is typically mitigated by what is called IoT ecosystems – partnerships of companies each being expert in their own domain. They can offer pre-integrated solutions where each piece is verified to work well with other interfacing pieces. Such ecosystems can be themselves complex and dynamic in nature, depending on the end application requirements. For example, connecting an off-the-shelf temperature sensor via WiFi router to a cloud service which displays temperature history chart may involve very different ecosystem partners than an application for globally tracking perishable cargo that connects specialized sensors via international cellular networks and optimizes delivery routes based on historical and aggregated data.
Typically, high quality System Integrators are the key players that understand the multiple technological, ecosystems, and business tradeoffs to put together an effective system solution for their clients. The clients, on the other hand, are traditional businesses, such as farmers or municipality managers, that are not likely to have technology competency, but can tremendously benefit from the recent advancements in this technology.
There are some poster-child IoT applications, such as electric meter monitoring, that are driven by big companies on a large scale which cost-optimize the overall system solution. The individual system components, such as wireless electric meters, are single-purpose devices, produced in millions to make the per-unit cost very low, but the engineering costs (NRE – Non-Refundable Engineering) can be very high (well above $100K per device design). However, many IoT applications are not as developed, not as high unit-volume, and not as mature to benefit from single-purpose-built IoT sensor devices. In most IoT applications, flexibility, ease of use, and fast time to market actually provide better overall business utility and cost effectiveness.