Why Standards are King in the Brave New World of IoT

Phil Beecher, President, Wi-SUN Alliance, talks IoT Standards
Gartner IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) era is well and truly upon us. Billions of devices are now networked across the globe, driving efficiencies for organisations and helping to improve the quality of life for countless end-users.

Over the next few years the number of IoT endpoints will soar by over 140% to reach more than 7.5 billion worldwide, according to Gartner. But we all know this story. Arguably more important to understand are the challenges facing firms in implementing IoT projects, and their key requirements for success going forward.

New global Wi-SUN Alliance research tells us that the kind of network topology and security controls, alongside performance and standards, will be essential criteria.

An IoT explosion

Gartner polled hundreds of IT decision makers in countries around the world to find out more about projects in smart city, utilities and industrial (IIoT) environments.

The good news is that over half of those we spoke to who have started investing have already fully implemented an IoT strategy and a third are rolling it out. In fact, IoT was placed second in the overall IT priority pecking order, just after cybersecurity initiatives.

Why is it getting so much attention? Precisely because IoT supports so many wider IT initiatives including greater automation, use of big data analytics and improved organisational connectivity. IoT sits at the centre of these and many other projects, providing the crucial infrastructure and data.

When asked, the biggest group (47%) of IT leaders said that it would ‘improve network intelligence and connectivity for citizen safety and quality of life’. Other key drivers included business efficiency (42%), improvements to the reliability of services (41%), reduction in operating costs (37%), and improved agility (37%).

It seems to be working: 99% of respondents told Gartner that they had seen tangible benefits after implementing IoT projects. One such company is US energy firm Florida Power and Light (FPL), which built a smart grid to drive internal and external benefits. It soon proved its worth, helping the provider to restore power to 99% of users affected by 2016’s devastating Hurricane Matthew within two days. It says the new system also actively prevented outages at over 100,000 homes.

Resilient IoT networks like this can also be expanded to enable local authorities to make their smart city vision a reality. In Florida, 500,000 smart street lights were connected to the FPL network to improve public safety, power efficiency and service reliability. Similar projects have been rolled out all over the world in cities such as Copenhagen, Halifax, Glasgow, London and Paris.

The security challenge

But there’s no denying that major challenges still exist for IT leaders: 94% of those we spoke to said they struggled with IoT implementation. Security was seen as the greatest barrier to adoption (59%), which is no surprise considering recently revealed high-profile attacks on IoT infrastructure in the UK and abroad.

In the world of IoT the stakes are raised significantly. Here, cyber-attacks don’t just result in potential data theft, but could also be aimed at interrupting power supplies and other key services which could have a significant impact on the populace.

IT bosses told us that they want multi-layered protection and continuous network monitoring to stay secure. It’s something the Wi-SUN Alliance say it is committed to offering via various initiatives including device vetting to prevent compromised endpoints connecting to the network; authentication and encryption of network traffic; support for over-the-air updates, and more.

Security isn’t the only issue holding back firms’ IoT adoption in IIoT, smart city and utilities. Leadership buy-in and funding (32%) were both key challenges, pointing to a need for IT decision makers to engage the C-suite more effectively.

A standards-based future

So what is most important to IT bosses when they come to evaluate rival IoT technologies? Aside from security, network topology (58%) emerged as a key criterion.

Gartner found that most organisations want to keep their options open by implementing a blend of star-based networks with mesh networks. It’s great to see such advanced understanding and planning of network infrastructure. Gartner argue that mesh networks offer improved resilience to hacking and signal jamming which make them particularly suitable for critical infrastructure (CNI) environments such as power plants.

Communications performance (53%) and industry standards support (52%) came next as key requirements for successful IoT projects.

Open global standards are no longer a nice-to-have: they’re an essential prerequisite to system-wide connectivity and interoperability, helping to drive down costs and improve choice and quality for IT buyers. It’s no surprise that nearly half (45%) of respondents argued that smart city IoT solutions must be built using industry-wide open standards, while 43% said the same for utilities environments.

As the Internet of Things continues to grow and mature, it is standards that will ensure that diverse new applications and devices remain interoperable on all levels while legacy investments are protected with backwards compatibility. Nothing less will do to ensure network bosses and their users get the kind of business benefits and RoI they’re now demanding from such projects.

Check out the main findings from the study in the info graphic below.

wi-sun-vb-iot-infographic-1

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