The concept of shelf sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) allowing convenience-store retailers to better understand product movement and customer buying behaviour, has been in the media so much lately that retailers might think the technology is just around the corner.
But a bigger rift may exist in the overall scheme known as the Internet of Things (IoT), according to researchers with Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.
In a report released last month, Gartner ranked 10 IoT technologies that still need development and ought to be on every organization’s radar through the next two years.
“The IoT demands an extensive range of new technologies and skills that many organizations have yet to master,” said Nick Jones, vice president and analyst for Gartner. “A recurring theme in the IoT space is the immaturity of technologies and services and of the vendors providing them.”
As with much of the technologies already prevalent at c-stores and gas stations, several core challenges emerge, including security, device management, relevant platforms, analytics development and standards. Here’s Gartner’s list:
1. IoT Security
The IoT introduces a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices themselves, their platforms and operating systems, their communications and even the systems to which they’re connected. Security technologies will be required to protect IoT devices and platforms from both information attacks and physical tampering, to encrypt their communications and to address new challenges such as impersonating “things” or “denial-of-sleep” attacks that drain batteries. IoT security will be complicated by the fact that many “things” use simple processors and operating systems that may not support sophisticated security approaches.
“Experienced IoT security specialists are scarce and security solutions are currently fragmented and involve multiple vendors,” Jones said. “New threats will emerge through 2021 as hackers find new ways to attack IoT devices and protocols, so long-lived ‘things’ may need updatable hardware and software to adapt during their life span.”
2. IoT Analytics
IoT business models will exploit the information collected by “things” in many ways, such as understanding customer behavior, delivering services, improving products and identifying and intercepting business moments. However, IoT demands new analytic approaches. New analytic tools and algorithms are needed now, but as data volumes increase through 2021, the needs of the IoT may diverge further from traditional analytics.
3. IoT Device (Thing) Management
Long-lived nontrivial “things” will require management and monitoring. This includes device monitoring, firmware and software updates, diagnostics, crash analysis and reporting, physical management and security management. The IoT also brings new problems of scale to the management task. Tools must be capable of managing and monitoring thousands and perhaps even millions of devices.
4. Low-Power, Short-Range IoT Networks
Selecting a wireless network for an IoT device involves balancing many conflicting requirements, such as range, battery life, bandwidth, density, endpoint cost and operational cost. Low-power, short-range networks will dominate wireless IoT connectivity through 2025, far outnumbering connections using wide-area IoT networks. However, commercial and technical tradeoffs mean that many solutions will coexist, with no single dominant winner and clusters emerging around certain technologies, applications and vendor ecosystems.
5. Low-Power Wide-Area Networks
Traditional cellular networks don’t deliver a good combination of technical features and operational cost for those IoT applications that need wide-area coverage combined with relatively low bandwidth, good battery life, low hardware and operating cost, and high connection density. The long-term goal of a wide-area IoT network is to deliver data rates from hundreds of bits per second (bps) to tens of kilobits per second (kbps) with nationwide coverage, a battery life of up to 10 years, an endpoint hardware cost of about $5 and support for hundreds of thousands of devices connected to a base station or its equivalent. The first low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) were based on proprietary technologies, but in the long term, emerging standards such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) will likely dominate this space.
6. IoT Processors
The processors and architectures used by IoT devices define many of their capabilities, such as whether they are capable of strong security and encryption, power consumption, whether they are sophisticated enough to support an operating system, updatable firmware and embedded device management agents. As with all hardware design, there are complex tradeoffs between features, hardware cost, software cost, software upgradability and so on. As a result, understanding the implications of processor choices will demand deep technical skills.
7. IoT Operating Systems
Traditional operating systems (OSs) such as Windows and iOS were not designed for IoT applications. They consume too much power, need fast processors and, in some cases, lack features such as guaranteed real-time response. They also have too large a memory footprint for small devices and may not support the chips that IoT developers use. Consequently, a wide range of IoT-specific operating systems has been developed to suit many different hardware footprints and feature needs.
8. Event-stream Processing
Some IoT applications will generate extremely high data rates that must be analyzed in real time. Systems creating tens of thousands of events per second are common, and millions of events per second can occur in some telecom and telemetry situations. To address such requirements, distributed stream computing platforms (DSCPs) have emerged. They typically use parallel architectures to process very high-rate data streams to perform tasks such as real-time analytics and pattern identification.
9. IoT Platforms
IoT platforms bundle many of the infrastructure components of an IoT system into a single product. The services provided by such platforms fall into three main categories:
Low-level device control and operations such as communications, device monitoring and management, security and firmware updates.
IoT data acquisition, transformation and management.
IoT application development, including event-driven logic, application programming, visualization, analytics and adapters to connect to enterprise systems.
10. IoT Standards and Ecosystems
Although ecosystems and standards aren’t precisely technologies, most eventually materialize as application programming interfaces (APIs). Standards and their associated APIs will be essential because IoT devices will need to interoperate and communicate, and many IoT business models will rely on sharing data between multiple devices and organizations.
Many IoT ecosystems will emerge, and commercial and technical battles between these ecosystems will dominate areas such as the smart home, the smart city and health care. Organizations creating products may have to develop variants to support multiple standards or ecosystems and be prepared to update products during their life span as the standards evolve and new standards and related APIs emerge.
More detailed analysis is available for Gartner clients in the report “Top 10 IoT Technologies for 2017 and 2018.” The report is part of the Gartner Special Report “The Internet of Things,” which looks at the necessary steps to building and rolling out an IoT strategy.