What’s stopping IoT from going mainstream?

September 2022

Why has IoT not hit its projected boom after so much buzz?

What’s stopping IoT from going mainstream?

When the Internet of Things first arrived, it came with the promise of “connected reality”. Fast forward a few years, while IoT has made all the effort to fulfill its promise, it is still not the ever-present technology we wished to see it would become. At present, millions of devices are connected and it would be certain to say that hence going forward there will be no devices left that are not connected to the internet. According to Ericsson, there will be 29 billion connected devices by the end of 2022, of which 18 billion will be related to IoT. 

Despite the tech’s rapid adoption across industries and sectors, the annual predictions that “this will be the year of the true IoT boom” seem to largely remain in the category of probable future. With expectations comes hope,  and with hope comes a list of reality checks to diminish that hope. Here are the reality checks that have still got IoT cooped up in its shell.

Deploying IoT devices often comes with high time and money investment requirements. There's a huge number of devices to be purchased/manufactured and configured, installed and integrated into the network. So we can’t disagree with the fact that manufacturing is tough, but on top of that fact IoT startups also have to deal with the massive cost of software development. After you’re done with your hardware prototype development, you have so much more lined up to manage. App development, Server API, SDK’s and the communication between all of these. With all this on the plate, this cannot be a solo show and even small projects require a team of 5-10 engineers, and the greater the team the more $’s you’re burning. 

Just when you think that we’ve got all the costs covered, no we have not! With IoT, expenses are frequently dispersed throughout the network with data, storage, deployment, and energy costs being additional expenses on top of building your product. If your gadget is wireless, battery longevity, battery changeability, and cost of batteries are additional costs that need to be considered. Add in complex pricing plans of cloud computing platforms and you’re done for. 

Let's term IoT "software-enabled hardware". This multiverse is extremely intricate with problems of both sides coming in.  IoT devices are interconnected with many different points, including endpoint devices, mobile applications, and cloud platforms. IoT platforms may find it difficult to manage all of these devices and keep track of their configurations, performance, and failures. IoT service providers must oversee the operational management of their connected devices' problems, configuration items, metering, accounting, billing, availability, performance, and security. Additionally, these suppliers must take into account every detail of this sophisticated equipment. Thus running an IoT business means getting your hands dirty in multiple domains which is definitely not an easy task. 

If you’re all going into a single domain for instance SaaS or HaaS, businesses can make up that investment quickly. If the business spreads out and multiple domains get involved, we expect the cost to rise exponentially. Scalability in production and expansion is thus a huge factor in deterring the IoT explosion.

The best way of putting technology into use is to offer it as a practical application. This is where business ventures come in, enabling the use of technology as a business solution. We can see many business ventures now offering IoT solutions. But are they truly using IoT in the way it should be used, or are they just integrating it into the business just for the sake of offering an IoT solution just because it is “cool”. 

What’s happening right now is similar to what's happening in the Web3 world. Web3 has become a buzzword that everyone has become infatuated with lately. No conversation is taken seriously until you sprinkle a bit of Web3 on top or at least add it in your Twitter bio. I mean come on, who are you until you are not a “Web3 Enthusiast”. I was having a conversation with a friend who was pitching me his startup idea"

Him: “I am building an influencer matching platform but that’s not it”

Me : “Okay, so what's so special about it?”

Him: “It’s built on Web3”

Me: 👀

So essentially the problem here is that the vast majority of what we see being proposed as part of Web3 is nothing that can't already be done just as efficiently with existing technology, systems and paradigms. 

Similarly when it comes to IoT we have to develop the right business sense to take it forward. Something very few people have succeeded to develop. 

Most IoT solutions are coming in as : "what can we solve with IoT" instead of "which problems can only be solved with IoT". What the ecosystem is doing right now is offering IoT as an extension of their product thinking that it’ll give them an edge in the market. Sorry amigos. I have bad news. That business strategy has a huge chance of not working in your favor. What it might do though is cause a huge dip in your cash stash and if you have so many extra $’s, reach out to me I’ll share my bank details. 

With this approach, IoT looks to be the solution in search of problems and we need to make it the opposite. Bring out products where IoT is used as an antibiotic not a multivitamin. In simple words (which I personally am bad at using), if that particular problem isn’t treated by IoT, the problem will persist. The germs won't die and even Commander Safeguard won’t be able to help.

So here is what we need to do. Build the right kind of stuff which actually puts the humongous amount of data collected through IoT into use. Develop a proper feedback loop for the data and work on data analytics to produce fruitful results. And this is already happening! Take a peek into the Multiverse of Muskness. Look at what he has done with “Tesla”. Isn’t that the best example of how IoT can serve you as a core technology! 

Fragmentation of protocols like data integration and interoperability are the biggest problems for the adoption of IoT. These problems make device management even more difficult when a company considers the possibility of scalability. 

IoT protocols and standards are still up for debate, therefore devices made by various manufacturers may not be compatible with current hardware. It may be challenging to deploy effectively because each one may need multiple hardware connections and setups.

Since there are now many various types of connectivity standards, it is important to select the right one for your purposes in order to avoid integration problems. Wifi, BLE and Zigbee, are just some of the well-known wireless networking technologies that are currently available for domestic IoT-based solutions. Each of these wireless protocols has different characteristics that were designed for specific applications.

For instance, we can take the example of a remote alarm which is operated on WiFi and a smart lock which works on Zigbee. Now both work real smooth on their own, but what if you want to trigger the smart lock using that alarm? See? This is where the problem stems from. Different protocols mean that both smart devices cannot directly communicate with each other. There is a language barrier between both. 

Multiple types of sensors or components from various suppliers are also utilized at various IoT deployment levels, and many times these components operate according to various standards and protocols. Therefore adding to the complexity of compatibility and interoperability issues. Purchasing numerous solutions from various providers and integrating them all becomes a time and cost-ineffective process from the viewpoint of a potential consumer. 

Without any industry standards, we cannot move towards open-source frameworks that promote collaboration among developers thus slowing down the general process of growth. But now we are gradually moving towards standardization. With the new thread protocol being implemented in smart homes and cellular services like NB-IoT and LTE-M being launched in remote areas we are surely adapting open-source communication protocols. 

Communication over the internet is the core principle of any IoT device or service. Since data transit depends on strong connectivity, it is regarded as one of the key elements of the Internet of Things. 

In a small network, connectivity is seamless and can be managed super easy. Let’s say that, in an urban household, a smart home system is easy to deploy because the availability of WiFi is a no-brainer. However, connectivity problems appear when IoT is implemented globally and in remote and distant areas, and a large number of devices and sensors link and interact. 

What we’re trying to do here is make IoT conform to the pre-existing rules and protocols. And most of the time that does not work out. Let’s take the example of email. Worked like a charm in the 20th century but does it work for the ecosystem now? The answer is most definitely not. It’s tedious, slow, lacks structure and difficult to integrate into most of the business structures now which is why solutions like Shortwave have come forward. Instead of conforming to the old ways the ecosystem has designed new solutions for efficient communication. 

A similar kind of approach needs to be taken up for IoT. We need to revamp the existing infrastructure for it. Connectivity does exist, it was just never meant for IoT. The ecosystem is slowly offering us this. With LoRaWAN now in the picture and licenses being issued even at a local scale the connectivity landscape is definitely changing. New additions like global sims and 5G networks will also help boost it up.

Essentially it all boils down to the one basic question we’ve been asking ourselves since the dawn of time “How do we stay connected”. A pigeon, a phone or a drone? Choose your warrior wisely.

IoT devices are evolving and becoming more widely used, making it difficult to keep the data they collect and transmit securely. Devices need to be secured against physical tampering, network-based attacks, software attacks on the internet, and hardware attacks.

Despite the fact that all other tech stacks are also vulnerable to data breaches and attacks the security risks have been projected multifold when it comes to IoT. The security risks have not been balanced out with IoT benefits. This can be ascribed to the fact that data privacy is an imperative concern, especially because IoT devices are being used in more sensitive industries, such as healthcare and finance. Information privacy laws are coming into effect globally, too, meaning that not only does it make good business sense to protect data, but businesses are legally required to do so. The security concerns are valid but no one in the ecosystem is highlighting the fact that the problem has already been addressed. 

Also just like everything else this is also a double edged sword. When the radio was invented, it became a tool for connecting thousands. But the exact same tool became the cause of thousands of deaths in war times. The same is the case with IoT. We just have to pick our poison. 

With a big fleet of devices, integrating encryption and security procedures might be challenging but the latest IoT platforms have made connectivity over IoT 10x secure with strict security protocols thus reducing the chance of data breach or loss. Companies like these are also required to get strict security certifications like OSHA and ISO so the security base is already covered. 

Why is Silicon Valley not willing to bring in the “Silicon” in the game? The software setup’s dominance is something of an axiom in the silicon valley. Why? SaaS gives you easy bucks. Businesses may substantially grow up after they've established product-market fit and they quickly iterate on their products. This might bring in easy revenue and easier management but where is the innovation and challenge in this now? How much more scheduling or grocery apps do we need? 

Despite all these factors, the big guns are not willing to come out of the “hardware is hard” mindset although we have a lot of factors which prove otherwise. Recents times have proved to be banner years for startups in the hardware space, which has already seen several multi-billion-dollar exits. Tesla and Ring are names switching up the game for the hardware ecosystem. With these types of examples it should be a no-brainer to invest in hardware startups. With considerably more interactive product development, early hardware firms nowadays frequently resemble lean software businesses, enabling more thorough investigation of the product-market fit. All these factors should now pull in the self proclaimed tech gurus in the space now. It’s time they make hardware their darling. 

Let's term all other tech stacks as a universe. They got all going on for them in it. Software is often termed an easy thing to manage. Hardware albeit a bit more complicated can also get going once you figure things out. Then comes in our “software-enabled-hardware” IoT. It's a genuinely mixed pickle and one thing about us is that we love mix pickles. They add a lot of flavor to everything. But this mixed pickle is sort of in a pickle right now. And the community needs to come together to pull it out of it. 

Adam Frankl says we need to explain the core concepts, not of our product, but the underlying technology. And we think this falls in the book of rules we’ve not been following. The IoT ecosystem is projecting all IoT enabled devices as smart and the common man is not smart enough to understand that every smart device is essentially dependent on IoT. 

I believe when the ecosystem will project itself as a business solution enabled by technology, then we will actually break all the shackles. Also people from all domains can offer a lot in many capacities. Be it hardware assembly, connectivity infrastructure or business insights the IoT ecosystem can gain benefit from everyone in the circle. In recent times, big names like Particle and EdgeImpulse have emerged giving everyone motivation to give their 100%. They’re making sure that the future of IoT is “smart”. With them doing what they are doing, the day is not far that IoT will go mainstream and get the recognition it deserves in the tech ecosystem. 

Another reason that keeps IoT dull and in the shadows is how complex it can be to develop on. Something that adds to that complexity is cloud providers like AWS and GCP, read the next article to know why cloud providers are not good IoT platforms.