IoT -- where machine-based intelligence, monitoring and connectivity are built into more and more devices and systems for consumer, commercial and civic applications -- is having an increased impact on our lives and work.
Faster performance and broader connectivity will accelerate this trend, particularly for health applications. According to "The Impact of Technology in 2024 and Beyond: an IEEE Global Study," from October 2023, 54% of participants said 5G would benefit telemedicine, including remote surgery and health record transmission. In addition, 88% said faster 6G networks will be standardized in the next three to five years.
A review of 2023 IoT challenges and advances
Throughout 2023, most of the supply chain issues from the COVID-19 pandemic were resolved, such as those involving chips for automobile applications. But these issues have resulted in an international movement to broaden chip supply chains by building more semiconductor manufacturing plants in Asia, North America and Europe. These new chip manufacturing facilities will start to come online within the next couple of years. Creating shorter supply chains for semiconductors should help avoid future issues with the chips needed to develop IoT applications.
However, 2023 was in general a down year for some types of semiconductors, as inventories acquired during the pandemic because of supply uncertainties were absorbed. Semiconductor factories in many industries, such as memory, cut back their manufacturing volume to raise prices higher than the cost of manufacturing. Consequently, by the end of the year, semiconductor chip prices trended higher. The combination of inventory reduction and lower supply, when joined with data- and process-driven applications, should result in significant increases in demand for all types of semiconductors in 2024.
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Work on generative AI, such as ChatGPT, highlighted major advances made during the year among AI software algorithms and the hardware on which to train these models. Many companies are working to accelerate the rate at which IoT-derived data can be analyzed and turned into useful insights in data centers and at the edge. And with more IoT devices collecting data, there's more data for analysis and training. These models, once created in data centers, can be implemented as an inference engine at the network edge or in IoT endpoint devices to enable new and better performing applications. Some of these models can also learn locally, adjusting their capabilities as they gain experience with data in the field.
When asked to choose from a dozen different technologies, 65% of respondents to the IEEE survey said AI -- including predictive and generative AI, machine learning and natural language processing -- will be the most important developing technology in 2024. This was followed by various types of extended reality, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, and cloud computing.
7 IoT growth drivers in 2024 and beyond
In the coming year, the following areas will likely be the main contributors to IoT growth.
1. More AI support for IoT
According to the IEEE survey, respondents indicated that the top four potential applications of AI in 2024 will be real-time cybersecurity vulnerability identification and attack prevention, increased supply chain and warehouse automation efficiencies, accelerated software development and more automated customer service. Increasing supply chain and warehouse efficiencies will also require significant investments in IoT technology to enable product identification, handling and development.
IoT-capable factories can combine greater monitoring and local intelligence with robotics and automation to take over some operations that would otherwise require people to work in close proximity to each other. With the intelligence of IoT-based systems, humans are increasingly filling roles where their unique capabilities to make decisions using both objective and subjective criteria can be combined with machine intelligence to create safer and more efficient factories.
2. More widespread connectivity for IoT devices
A May 2023 report from IoT Analytics, "State of IoT -- Spring 2023," projected that by 2025, the growth of IoT devices could increase to 27 billion connected IoT devices. A trend that will enable this growth is the increased replacement of 2G/3G wireless networks with 4G/5G networks. This will particularly increase connectivity in urban communities, but many rural areas will still depend upon lower performing networks. Although satellite communications networks can help, they are limited in bandwidth and might be expensive. The disparity in available communication bandwidth will widen the digital divide between wealthy urban areas and poorer rural areas.
3. Lower costs for IoT product components
This year, I expect the gradual relief of some chip shortages as new production goes online. Other chips saw oversupply in 2023, including dynamic RAM (DRAM) and NAND flash memories, which led to lower prices. Lower prices and a greater availability of components going into 2024 will result in lower costs for endpoint IoT products, which could accelerate further adoption.
4. New technological developments
IoT is attracting many new technological developments that will drive growth in 2024 and beyond. These developments include changes in computer architectures -- driven in part by changes in storage and memory approaches -- that will affect the way data is stored and processed in data centers and at the network edge. This will result in less data movement and lower-power data processing. In addition, new chiplet packaging technology will enable denser and more specialized chip-based systems, including at the network edge and in endpoint IoT devices. There is also a move to switch some volatile memory to non-volatile memory, so IoT endpoint devices with more memory can hold and process data and do so with lower power requirements. In the future, fundamental changes in computer processing could impact IoT applications.
5. System disaggregation enabling more efficient data processing
Disaggregation of traditional data center servers and composing virtual computing systems enable more efficient processing of data as well as lower power consumption and more sustainable computing. Much of the data processed in data centers is from IoT applications, and as IoT grows, this processing will also grow. Non-volatile memory express (NVMe), Compute Express Link (CXL) and the changes they enable in computer architecture will reduce the costs of many IoT applications.
6. New chip design and standards
Traditional semiconductor device design is also undergoing its own disaggregation with the introduction of chiplets. Chiplets separate many of the traditional CPU functions into separate smaller chips that are connected to each other with high-speed interconnects on a small package. In 2022, a standard called Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe) was introduced that aimed to enable specialized chips from many manufacturers to be combined together in a compact package. This enables the creation of more specialized semiconductor chiplet packages for special applications and creates the need for a new type of foundry for assembling chiplets into a UCIe package. UCIe will enable more efficient semiconductor devices for data centers, the network edge and for IoT endpoint devices.
7. Emerging non-volatile or persistent memory technologies for IoT
Lower prices on DRAM, NAND flash and other important semiconductors for IoT devices and the increasing density of these memory devices will help lower the costs and increase the capability of IoT devices. In addition to these traditional memory technologies, there are emerging non-volatile or persistent memory technologies that are starting to show up in IoT devices, particularly for code storage in designs under 28 nm. For instance, magnetic RAM (MRAM) and resistive RAM (RRAM) are used in some consumer IoT devices, such as wearables. Replacing static RAM with a non-volatile memory, such as MRAM, enables more lower-power states when the IoT device is not being actively used. For energy-constrained applications, such as those running on batteries, this increases the usefulness and life of a charge for the IoT device.
Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, is a digital storage analyst and business and technology consultant.