Does the IoT herald a ‘slow revolution’ for content creation and other professional applications, or is 5G the catalyst for accelerated activity? Security remains an abiding concern, writes David Davies.

Internet of things

Internet of things: Will 5G accelerate activity?

The purpose of IBC365’s last extended sortie into the Internet of Things (IoT) was to establish what the impact of a movement about whom media coverage had previously focused on the domestic space was likely to have on broadcast and professional AV.

The answer that emerged was only partial in nature: whilst it was already apparent that extracting data across multiple channels and platforms was going to give content creators exciting new opportunities to form rounded portraits of viewer preferences, few manufacturers appeared to have formulated game-plans that majored explicitly on IoT.

Speaking to some of the organisations in late February 2020, it appears that developments are now accelerating, especially with regard to IoT application ‘building blocks’ and progress around 5G connectivity.

Adrian Baschnonga EY

Adrian Baschnonga: EY global telecoms lead analyst 

According to EY global telecoms lead analyst Adrian Baschnonga, “expectation levels around the Internet of Things are rising – and the recent arrival of 5G in many markets has triggered growing interest in how it can enhance IoT.

5G paves the way for more efficient content distribution, with use cases from the rural transmission and outside broadcasting to augmented reality all set to benefit. 5G trial and testbed schemes, often with cross-industry participation, are currently playing an important role in ramping up levels of innovation in this space.”

To this end, EY recently launched a survey designed to explore perceptions and investment appetite of 5G and IoT among 1,000 enterprises from eight industries in nine countries. The full survey results are yet to be published, but an initial finding that less than half of respondents have confidence in their organisation’s ability to successfully implement 5G-based IoT suggests that there is still much work to be done.

‘Adoption rates look healthy’
The upward trajectory is nonetheless undeniable, with Baschnonga pointing to recent EY research showing that 36% of organisations worldwide are already investing in IoT, and an additional 16% will start investing in 2020: “So adoption rates look healthy. In terms of IoT applications, we should expect to see more advances in areas like critical infrastructure monitoring and control.

Another interesting area to watch is the smart office; as smart homes become mainstream, organisations are considering how sensor environments can be deployed in the workplace to generate new forms of efficiency and boost productivity.”

Liam Friel – solution lead for connected products for communications, media and technology at Accenture – echoes the view that IoT is set for “very robust growth” with typical estimates ranging from 10-15% CAGR for the overall market over the next few years. There are signs that some areas could be on track for more rapid development, though.

For example, says Friel, “we expect faster growth in device-enablement platforms. These are the technology platforms that constitute the foundational building blocks for many IoT applications, enabling device connectivity, monitoring, remote control, software updates, remote interaction and device orchestration.

”We see a lot of activity from the communication service providers in providing industry-specific solutions to their customers, providing not just connectivity but also the IoT management platforms that can deliver business solutions for their clients.”

Accenture Liam Friel

Liam Friel: Accenture lead for connected products for communications, media and technology 

He also cites 5G network rollout as a “very important enabler” in IoT development. “With the higher data throughput and lower latency, there is a lot of interest in 5G enabling new use cases which are just not practical with earlier connectivity technology,” says Friel.

“While 5G won’t reach critical mass in 2020, we’re going to see momentum – and coverage – really start to build up in the coming years, and some interesting new scenarios being trialled.”

New era for interfaces
Providing a technology supplier perspective, Maverick AV Solutions VP Europe Joel Chimoindes believes the IoT conversation is “certainly ramping up” and points to recent growth in the number of people appointed to tech data roles at organisations throughout Europe. But in historic terms, he implies that we are still in the formative stages of IoT deployment.

The implementation of IoT on displays like Sharp’s new Windows Collaboration Display represents “the start of how interfaces will collect data through IoT. Networks, unless they are for new builds, will take a while to catch up on how quickly IoT can be deployed in a meaningful way – but with the right expertise, it can be transformational. [Of course] analytics tools will be crucial in effectively utilising the data gathered” – an observation that applies equally to all professional applications, the actual data collection being “just half of the IoT revolution”.

The continued refinement of analytics tools will, therefore, be crucial, although Chimoindes highlights the progress already made in creating “connected dashboards which make it easy to access the data produced”.

The more IoT ecosystems expand, the more a unified approach to management and analysis will be obligatory at each organisation – lest the data collected should literally become overwhelming in every sense.

‘Security is top of mind’
With Forbes among the many outlets to have likened IoT at present to a technological Wild West, in which security precautions remain the subject of dramatic variation, it is inevitable that the mitigation of cyber threats is (in the words of Baschnonga) “top of mind among enterprises”.

He continues: “Many IoT devices are unsophisticated with weak security apps, while configuration apps often have encryption weak spots. Looking ahead, there’s definitely scope for greater collaboration across the value chain to help confront this evolving threat landscape.”

No matter what the application, the interfacing of IoT devices with professional systems must be rigorously executed. IoT products “need to be treated professionally if you’re going to connect them to your professional systems,” says Friel.

“One of the common problems with IoT devices is that security can take a back seat to convenience, so that is something to be very conscious of. Basic security hygiene is a must of course – procuring your devices from reputable suppliers, changing all defaults, and so on. But you also need to ensure that devices are regularly updated and security patches applied, robust authentication of devices is in place, and [that you] understand how the patches and updates will be applied, at what frequency, and who will be responsible for this.”

Establishing a clear chain of responsibility is clearly essential for any organisation looking to move seriously down this road. But Friel signs off with some other useful advice, remarking that IoT devices should only ever expose “those services required for operation” to the internet – something that can be achieved with effective controls. Beyond that, there is a lot to be said for partnering at an early stage with specialist firms who are cognisant of all of IoT’s many implications for the professional domain.

As Friel notes, “reputable partners can provide a wide range of security services to assist clients who are concerned about the security impact of IoT” – running the gamut “from security audits of devices, system software reviews and penetration testing, to managed security operation centres providing AI and ML techniques to detect and prevent security issues.”