At a staggering 14.4 billion devices, there are almost two IoT devices for every person on Earth. The growth has been phenomenal -- from fewer than a billion in 2010 to forecasts of 24 billion IoT devices all weaved into the fabric of our civilization by 2050. These small machines that quietly collect, monitor and process data will soon outnumber people by an even vaster degree than it already does.
We already know that many possibilities lie in these IoT device networks, where objects many of us take for granted daily are transformed into data points. Smart cities make life safer and more convenient for citizens, improving areas such as infrastructure management -- from traffic to flooding and early-warning weather systems. Beyond specific use cases, smart networks have potential across industries, with use cases in mining and metals, aviation, healthcare, agriculture and logistics. All of these applications can reap the rewards of IoT system evolution.
Global 5G connectivity is key, as it can provide the high-powered bandwidth to make these vast networks of devices even more capable. With faster and more comprehensive connectivity, IoT technologies will experience improved reliability and security, while device onboarding and integration should become simpler and quicker.
But all these benefits pose new challenges around complexity. While 5G should be viewed as an enabler, the technology and engineering sectors must meet 5G's large-scale connectivity power in a considered, strategic way to realize its full potential, while maximizing value and safety.
The challenges ahead
There are three main complexity hurdles ahead that industries will need to navigate to take advantage of a 5G-connected IoT world: management, health and security, and compatibility. As use cases become more advanced, efficient and immersive over this next era of IoT, these issues will become increasingly pressing.
The first is management. As the technology capabilities develop, so do the management challenges. It is up to the industry, including vendors, device manufacturers, infrastructure providers and network operators, to ensure that the newer 5G-powered devices function properly with wired and wireless Ethernet-based networks. To administer this converging tangle of connectivity, enterprises must have unified views of their networks that serve as the foundation for informed operations.
Like the developer world, cloud and edge computing platforms are the natural fit to simplify this integration. Great strides have been made in orchestration platforms for IoT network management and maintenance, especially with advanced capabilities that automate device and application management. The key for enterprises will be implementing these advanced capabilities into their IoT integration.
Second is health and security. As these IoT devices proliferate exponentially across our planet, each of these machines will require continuous monitoring for functionality, health and security; there's little use in generating or processing IoT data if it turns out to be inaccurate.
It's essential then that enterprises can ensure that only the correct IoT devices are on their networks. As the number of devices grows, this will become an increasingly complex task. In the early days of IoT networks, botnets hijacked devices like IP cameras and home routers. It exemplified the immense danger of unprotected or default password-protected connected devices. Meanwhile, other risks continue to exist. Consider that some search engines display every device that's open to the internet, including which ports they have open.
It takes only one weak point to compromise these systems, which makes continuous monitoring and an intelligent approach to access management more crucial to maintain the safety of corporate networks. Automation is necessary to manage devices at this scale.
Fortunately, software suites designed to identify and act on failures or predict system issues before they go offline are already available. In the future, cognitive operations systems will take advantage of data models that abstract functionality and device health so that they can identify and correct issues immediately.
The third challenge is compatibility. Organizations will need to deploy devices and IoT networks with the confidence that they are future-proofed. For instance, picture a safety device that relies on monitoring for potential failures in factory machinery. If the specifications of the machinery change, it must be possible to configure the device to recognize this new change -- otherwise, the functionality of the device will be rendered useless. This invites in business risk by introducing obsolescence into the networks and forces the organization to undertake costly retrofitting exercises.
To address these compatibility issues, organizations must keep their maintenance up to speed and ensure they have the capabilities to operate at scale. Organizations that decide to begin this integration should consider the use of automated continuous integration and continuous development systems that can test against device interoperability on an ongoing basis and check that they are running a system built with up-to-date firmware.
Systems integrators play a vital role to ensure that devices remain updated. Because multiple stakeholders often use IoT networks, system integrators should also drive standardization and interoperability. The key to achieve this is open source software so no one organization is locked in or out.
Getting ahead of these considerations today will enable IoT businesses to thrive tomorrow and take advantage of a connected world and the possibilities that brings -- without the fear of compromise.
About the author
Ben Pietrabella is EVP, managing director of communications and media, Americas at Capgemini Engineering. Prior to his current role, Pietrabella led Altran's Advanced Network and IoT Global Service Line. He is a global technology leader with more than 30 years of experience in driving success in complex enterprise applications and telecommunications products. He has significant knowledge and experience in enterprise architecture, product management, product development and integration services for multivertical enterprise application products, as well as carrier-grade telecommunications software products.