Open Source Phenomenon is Central for Growth in IoT

Ecolibrium Energy helps enterprises embrace the digital era with easily implementable IoT and AI-based solutions for enhanced asset productivity and substantial Maintenance cost savings. The company helps manufacturing and building facilities optimize their equipment efficiency using IoT-powered predictive insights.

In an interaction with EFY bureau, Harit Soni – Founder and Director, Ecolibrium Energy, speaks about the key technologies shaping the IoT future, open source phenomenon in IoT, the role of standardisation, IoT security and much more.

Harit Soni – Founder and Director, Ecolibrium Energy

Q. In your opinion, which are the top three technologies that are shaping the future of IoT? How are they influencing the future of IoT?

With nearly 21 billion connected devices by 2020, there will be a significant change in the way humans work, live and travel.

I feel the three key technologies that will pave the future of sector are:

  1. Smart sensors and low-cost communication technologies: IoT analytics are data hungry. Plug-and-play sensors, combined with efficient wireless technologies such as NB-IoT, LPWAN, 5G, etc., will play a key role in the future of IoT applications.
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML): A flood of IoT data will come pouring in every second. AI tools and specific ML algorithms will help us get real business value from raw sensor data.
  3. Smart edge to smart mesh: We will soon move from edge computing and have mesh networks talking to each other to automatically create smart insights and decisions, based on streaming data from multiple nodes.

Q. Between the cellular and NB-IoT/LPWA families of wireless technologies, which one are you betting upon? Why?

The number of IoT cases are mind-boggling – ranging from MedTech and agriculture to smart cities. In this scenario, solution providers will struggle to choose the option which will provide a delicate balance between power requirement, range and cost.

In the short run, I think all the available technologies will find use cases. Cellular is still going to be the leader in wireless technologies and will continue to do so in long-range high-frequency data applications. For low range, infrequent data transmission, LPWA will take over after maturity.

At Ecolibrium, we are betting on both cellular and NB-IoT, as these are the options which help us get the relevant data from industrial and building shop floors in the cheapest manner with minimal time for deployment.

Q. How’s the development of standards (or lack of it) affecting the adoption of IoT?

Lack of standards is directly linked to a lack of security and interoperability of the IoT ecosystem – which is a large barrier in applications reaching their true potential.

Interestingly, around 65 per cent of IoT applications are from B2C markets Industrial IoT, while being massive, is still moving slowly. This is because enterprise buyers are confused about the right IoT strategy due to a lack of standards.

However, standards normally follow technology. IoT is now ready for standards, and we will very soon see standards around security in IoT applications. Interoperability will take a little time and open source tools and protocols such as MQTT will start emerging as de-facto standards for cross-platform communication.

The need of the hour is for larger players to come together and make sure we all talk the same language for faster adoption of IoT in every sector, including Industrial IoT.

Q. How ready is India’s tech ecosystem to develop and deploy IoT solutions?

Both startups and established IT firms have been exploring IoT technology stack for more than a decade now. Indian engineers and companies are very well versed with IoT firmware, software and analytics. Sensors and hardware will remain the core competency of China in the short-term.

Interestingly, the real business value exists in analytics from IoT data. India is home to the second largest pool of IoT software and data science professionals and is poised to emerge as a global leader in this revolution.

As a market, the Indian IoT market is expected to reach US$ 15 billion by 2020, constituting 5 per cent of the global size. The government of India plans to develop 100 smart cities, and any large Indian enterprise worth its salt has started making its IoT roadmap. This is set to serve as a major boost to the tech ecosystem to utilise IoT.

There’s no doubt the Indian tech ecosystem is ready as a developer as well as a user of the latest IoT technology.

Q. Do you foresee India’s tech industry developing its own IP and branded products/solutions in the IoT arena?

I have no doubt the Indian tech industry will be creating very valuable IPs in this space.

I have personally seen the number of IoT startups increase nearly 10 times in the last five years from around 126 in 2014 to more than 1300 at last count by the IoT Forum.

Healthcare, agriculture and manufacturing are popular verticals attracting a lot of investors’ interest and most of the investment is being pooled into companies building extremely innovative solutions centered around IP created through domain centric solutions.

I see this trend of IP-led IoT solutions growing and that will also lay the path for an Indian IoT unicorn of the future.

Q. Do you see the Open Source phenomenon play an important role in the IoT arena?

Open Source phenomenon is central for growth in IoT. It will enable developers to create and change the code in IoT applications to enhance capabilities and performance.

The open source framework approach allows more flexibility. There is a scope for unlimited customization and tuning the code to match the specific needs of a product, as you are free from any vendor lock-in as well.

The current market is centered around proprietary IoT platforms provided by large global tech players.

Interestingly, the stage is now set for disruption through a robust open source IoT platform, enabling a wide variety of solution providers to focus on just the IoT hardware and sector-specific analytics.

Q. How do you see the role, technologies like AI/ML will play in the evolution of IoT solutions?

AI and ML represent the mind of the artificial world, whereas IoT represents the senses.

AI and ML can drive transformative value from the flood of data generated by IoT devices. ML brings the ability to automatically identify patterns and detect anomalies in the data that smart sensors generate – information such as temperature, pressure, humidity, air quality, vibration and sound.

However, the moot point is how solution providers combine their domain knowledge, with AI/ML tools on the IoT data.

At Ecolibrium, we have used AI and ML tools to help enterprises move from reactive to predictive maintenance of motors, chillers and other critical equipment. However, this was only possible due to our team bringing extensive domain knowledge and research into how machines in industries, buildings and utilities work.

A healthy mix of domain and AI/ML skills has helped us improve the bottom line of our over 300 enterprise customers – and I feel it will be a key factor in how we create scalable use cases.

Q. What’s your opinion on the state of security available for IoT solutions? How do you see the evolution from here on, w.r.t threats and countermeasures?

The IoT helps us obtain information that nobody collected before; it also stores and analyses it.

Whether it is Alexa device – who knows my favorite music genre better than any of my family members, or my IoT-enabled car which has learned my penchant for speeding – we are creating and sharing very personal information through IoT.

As of now, the state of IoT security, in general, is not state-of-the-art. Every company in the IoT sector must ensure the security, privacy and smooth experience of users so that we can really take advantage of the benefits of IoT.

In the short run, we might face some threats, but the movement is headed in the right direction and is progressing as we speak. The key focus has been on data encryption and fixing technical vulnerabilities in authentication – and I have no doubt we are already moving towards a reliable, secure and safe IoT ecosystem.

Q. W.r.t. edge vs cloud, where do you think will we see faster development in the next year or two?

It is not a battle of edge vs cloud, but a journey towards how edge and cloud can be combined to bring the most viable architecture for solving a business problem.

While the edge brings in quick response time, the cloud provides unlimited scalability and flexibility.

Future IoT applications will combine these options and bring about a beautiful symphony of sensors and software, forever changing the way we look and interact with ‘Things’.

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