The future is IoT: Overcoming the challenges of new technology

23rd November 2022
Paige West

The Internet of Things (IoT) has so far failed to deliver on its enormous potential. But new developments in connectivity may finally enable the billions of connected devices we were promised, notes Juan Nogueira, Director at Flex’s Connectivity Centre of Excellence.

When first talked about, the IoT held the promise of billions of connected devices. Years later, we are still waiting for that promise to be delivered. However, with the recent advances in technology, we are already seeing an accelerated rate of experimentation and adoption.

The combination of falling technology costs, improved connectivity and rapid development tools may finally enable companies to embrace the world of connected things, but there are factors to consider in order to ensure the tech doesn’t fall at the first hurdle.

IoT project challenges

The first few steps of any IoT project can often be the hardest, with many not succeeding due to a lack of knowledge and experience in house. With teams not knowing which data to capture, how it’s going to be used, or which type of device is needed, this can present avoidable obstacles.

This results in the business case being unclear – prompting management to question when they will see a return on investment and how the project will improve the business.

Early adopters of IoT were keen to test how this technology might work for them. But when technology is new, the investment needed in time and money can be difficult to justify to simply run a trial.

How to turn IoT projects into a success

Even when an IoT concept appears to have exciting potential, it can quickly prove itself to be impractical once implementation begins – either due to an absence of operative knowledge within the organisation or simply due to the fact that it only resolves part of the problem.

Whilst many IoT projects fall at the first hurdle, the market is responding to address this situation and offer solutions that bring the failure rate down.

Excellent support and advice around major stumbling blocks such as cybersecurity is more accessible than ever before, whilst vendors are also stepping up their own services to provide multiple IoT solutions. A greater sense of awareness is also being created around the importance of scalability in IoT – with organisations choosing more fluid solutions which can mould to the growing needs of the business.

What’s more, a number of devices are being developed that simplify the process and allow organisations to curate and test their IoT ideas before launch. One example is Flex’s iENBL – a hardware configuration that can be used for a broad range of IoT applications that allows customers to program it for their own purposes. This way, instead of developing an entirely new device, customers can quickly test and develop their own IoT ideas in a PoC (Proof of Concept).

It’s clear that the landscape is changing – and the future of IoT looks brighter as a result.

Greater hope for IoT projects

The exciting promise of a connected world has long been delayed and the lack of universal connectivity has slowed its adoption.

But now, with hardware and connectivity costs falling, power usage optimised, and new technologies like iSIM, 5G and satellite connectivity, the technology is finally ready to meet that pent-up demand.

The applications for IoT devices are innumerable. And whilst we may not be on the cusp of an imminent IoT explosion as pundits promised, we are about to see a steady and inevitable expansion as the value of IoT devices stops being a question and the advantage to business becomes self-evident.

A Q&A with Juan Nogueira, Director at Flex’s Connectivity Centre of Excellence about what the future holds for the industry:

What are some of the major challenges and trends that have been impacting the tech/IoT industry lately?

When companies approach an IoT solution, they often underestimate the hardware challenge, and instead focus their attention on the software i.e., the user application, smartphone app, cloud management dashboard, etc.

They wrongly assume that the hardware is the easy part. If not planned properly, developing new hardware can be very challenging, costly and time consuming. If the hardware requirement of the project has not been well defined at the beginning, there can be many iterations causing knock-on delays and increased costs that can push the entire project over budget.

A well-defined return on investment (ROI) for an IoT project is another critical success factor we often see overlooked. Developing custom hardware at an early stage may not be financially justifiable to support the business case, and a miscalculation here can cause the project to fail in the development phase.   

Expanding on the challenges, what are some of the major predicaments in the tech/IT/IoT industry?

If you plan to deploy hundreds of thousands, or even millions of IoT devices, you must be confident that they are secure and can be accessed or updated remotely while in the field.

Other considerations like power consumption and cost are very important but a device that is not secure is useless. Security is something that is built in at the design stage, so you have the right connectivity to provision, monitor and securely update that device.

Can you tell us about iENBL and what are some of the technological and process elements that were leveraged to make the product successful?

iENBL is not a product, or device, rather an IoT hardware platform designed to be intrinsically secure. It is accredited as PSA Certified Level One. This means that iENBL hardware has all the necessary elements for companies to build a secure IoT solution that also provides long and short-range connectivity.

The platform was conceived to provide a solution to customers who were in the early stages of their IoT project. If the hardware design was not clear or the cost of developing new hardware from scratch was prohibitive, iENBL offered a generic hardware implementation that:

  • incorporates a wide range of sensors, and includes processing power and connectivity,
  • is available and ready to be deployed in a field test
  • has been designed for manufacturing and can be the basis of a final device where the software developed for the trial phase can be directly ported into the final device

Some IoT projects begin using off-the-shelf development boards like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc., with additional sensors and connectivity shields on top. For testing, it is necessary to create tens or a few hundred units. The off-the-shelf hardware option can be difficult to scale even to limited test volumes.

If your trial is successful and you decide to move into final device design, a prototype of your off-the-shelf board-based solution will need to be developed for easy assembly and disassembly, volume production, and shipping. Any software developed for the test kit may need to be adapted or partially re-coded for the new hardware design.

The great advantage offered with iENBL is that the transition from IoT concept, to field test, to industrialization and production is seamless. And as a technology manufacturing company, Flex can produce the finished device anywhere in the world.

Which are some of the technological trends that excite you for the future of the tech industry and IoT?

One of the most exciting trends is the movement of artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities from the cloud to the edge. Tools like TensorFlow and solutions created on top of that, are allowing us to create smart and intelligent devices that can quickly react locally. This can reduce communication times and power consumption of devices.

On the connectivity front, there are some very exciting technologies such as iSIM (integrated SIM) technology. iSIM is finally doing what eSIM was unable to achieve: removing the physical SIM cards and thereby reducing space in the PCB, cost, power consumption, and management complexity.

The second exciting development is that of satellite connectivity for IoT. A number of new companies have emerged to deploy LEO satellite constellations, or that use existing GEO satellites to provide connectivity for IoT applications where a terrestrial cellular network is not available. That means IoT solutions can now cover the globe, including over three quarters of the world’s surface that is not covered by a cellular network.

iENBL is already using these technologies, sending data to a satellite at 36,000km from the earth surface using an early implementation of the 3GPP Rel.17 (5G), combined with an integrated SIM. This allows customers to test these new technologies and solutions before finalising their design.

How can budding and evolving companies look to improve/streamline their business?

If well collected and tagged data, aided by artificial intelligence or machine learning can help you reduce costs, improve efficiency, or grow customer loyalty, then IoT can help you capture that data and apply the right level of intelligence locally, to make sense of it. iENBL can shorten the development time of your hardware platform, so you can quickly test your solution and make investment decisions that deliver. 

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