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IoT: data and devices for a brave new world

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Since 2010, predictions for growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) have been staggering, and one thing has become clear: IoT is growing worldwide.
However, the true value in IoT is not in the devices, says Sean Laval, technical head of IoT at Comsol Networks. “The network, devices, and all of the pieces are there to allow organisations to gain value out of the data the IoT generates. The ‘how’ of IoT is therefore just as important as the ‘what’ of IoT — the data.”
He points out that all of the data in the world is useless if it can’t be interpreted and acted upon by the business. IoT data should be used as a near real-time feed to help hone decisions and accelerate action, Laval says, and implementing an IoT solution should ideally be accompanied by the correct software tools to extract maximum value from the captured data.”
An example of this is the data collected by Fitbits and other monitoring devices. Health insurers have started looking at using this information to lower their exposure to risk. Yet they are only starting to benefit from this wealth of data and there is much more potential in predicting illness, analysing heart rate data patterns over time for early detection of cardiac conditions, and so on.
The fact that the IoT encompasses so many different kinds of devices may seem to exacerbate the problem, but Laval explains that the way the IoT network is set up goes a long way to ensuring smooth data collection and analysis. “Using Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs), millions of connected devices can transmit their data over long distances, providing reliable communication with built-in redundancy. This assists with data integrity and allows companies to start actioning the data they are collecting.”
While IoT is still associated with Fitbits and smart fridges for many people, it is becoming a foundational business tool for most industries, with every sector from utilities to the military using connected devices to analyse data in order to derive the insights they need to pursue their goals. Laval points out that IoT is becoming so ubiquitous that the smart cities of the next few years will be unable to function without effective IoT networks.
“Utilities, for example, have been investing heavily in smart meters and other sensors. These devices measure and record the utility’s infrastructure, including usage. This data allows utilities to provide accurate bills as well as enable better planning – the data allows them to see where there are leaks, or where additional capacity is needed, and so on. Ultimately, this helps them better serve their customers and become more efficient at the same time. In the future, this will be the only way utilities can run their businesses.”
As the applications and uses of IoT continue to increase, so will the need for networks that are designed to ensure stable, secure and effective transmission of data. In 2015, US electric utilities had about 64,7-million smart metering installations. As of 30 September 2016, there were 4,05-million meters operated in smart mode by large energy suppliers in domestic properties across Great Britain. Japan’s largest electric utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co expects to deploy 27-million residential smart meters within its service territory by the time the Japanese capital hosts the Olympic Games in 2020. “These are just three drops in the IoT ocean,” Laval says.
“Compare that to the fact that the US Federal Aviation Administration says more than 770 000 drone registrations have been filed in about 15 months in that country. Or the fact that researchers predict that the global wearable medical devices (like heart monitors and hearing aids) market will witness a high double digit growth during 2016-2022. The data these devices transmit is going to become increasingly important to the way humans live, whether it’s recording images from the sky, or how much water we consume in our houses. Without a secure and effective network, the full potential of this data will never be completely unlocked.”