It seems that one of the most ubiquitous aspects of the Internet of Things (IoT) is actually the discussion about it. There is much yet to come, that is certain, but for all the dreams and promises, there are still real speed bumps facing a true launch into this promised next era. When those speed bumps are no longer there, the real momentum will begin without doubt, but what will it take to get there?
The promise is tremendous. During the next decade, IoT will bring a tsunami of growth that will parallel the initial personal computer and mobile phone waves, combined. Sales of residential IoT devices is predicted to grow to $67.7 billion by 2025 from $7.3 billion in 2015, according to Navigant Research.
Importantly though, Navigant’s research, in this case, focuses on residential IoT, particularly on the Smart Home. Add to these Smart Home numbers the growth expectations from wearables and digital signage first, followed quickly by medical, industrial, transportation (logistics and vehicles), municipalities, and you name it, the multiples quickly mount to staggering levels.
Combining these many market opportunities, as McKinsey & Co. report has done, gives a stab at the true growth potential. The researcher and consultancy estimates “a potential economic impact — including consumer surplus — of as much as $11.1 trillion per year in 2025 for IoT applications in nine settings.”
Understandably, these are the numbers that spark excitement within the industry. The electronics manufacturing and distribution channels are awash with innovative design concepts related to IoT. Today’s reality is scarcely beyond imagining this next phase though. While the probability of IoT and ubiquitous computing is real, and the early technology solutions and devices are initiated, we are not even approaching volume mode yet, as anyone in the channel can tell you. It will happen; there is obviously too much to leave on the table.
The tug-of-war between promises and problems is our current reality. Today’s IoT market is too highly fragmented to be called a “real” IoT start. As such, we’re not yet equipped to support ubiquitous computing either. Analysts, design engineers, and market dreamers are not off base though; the drivers and technology solutions (hardware, middleware, and software) behind the promises are based on real opportunities rooted in the expansive reach, the ubiquity, that IoT will have – but when?
To answer the question, we need to consider the inertia of the leading speed bumps. We know too well that the most difficult first set of speed bumps are the various standards. These are very real and very high barriers, as EPS's Gina Roos discussed, particularly considering the requirement of interoperability of disparate devices for IoT success. In other words, the industry must come to an agreement on IoT standards for devices, for interoperability protocols, and importantly data transfer security.
In this EPS exclusive, Mr. Cees Links, founder and CEO of GreenLink, provides one of the most comprehensive examinations of the standards quandary facing IoT. His assessment of the impact of the struggles warrants restating here: “Confusion in communication standards is not conducive for market acceptance of new applications. Clarity in standards is key for the market to grow. There are lots of very rosy predictions for the exploding size of this market – but unless there is some movement to come together – to work together – the big IoT boom may wait a little longer.”
Meanwhile, there are daily engineering issues facing IoT that are not as often discussed as the standards issues. Among design engineers, there are challenges rooted in the industry’s drive to smaller geometries and stacked chips. 3D-stacking and ever-smaller die shrinks are being adopted and moved into volume production by all major chip manufacturers.
For industrial and automation sectors, these component trends hold real opportunities but they also pose serious questions around long-term reliability and failure rates. As the die shrink and transistors become smaller, the density of those connections plus the necessarily thinner gate oxide layers bring the concern of more soft errors possibilities as well as more spike damage failures. IoT is, after all, not just about consumer and enterprise devices, it is importantly and necessarily about the full spectrum of market verticals.
As such, there is a significant amount of testing happening now of these new component architectures destined for the industrial, harsh environments that will form an integral part of the wider IoT network. What will the lifespan be for 3D stacks and 1x-nm geometries under the harshest environmental conditions (military, aerospace, automotive, industrial, etc.)?
Once we overcome the design engineering issues as well as the standards and interoperability barriers, the opportunities to transform business processes and to enable new business models are among the most powerful that IoT will bring, as McKinsey IoT research underscores. Coupling those successes with having met design challenges for the latest IoT chipsets for industrial use-cases will be a next level of barrier reduction.
With the level of transformative power that IoT has across markets worldwide, let’s hope the wait won’t be as long as some past standards battles and engineering challenges. Unfortunately, a truly interconnected, ubiquitous computing start for IoT is just not yet possible – but it will certainly come.