IoT Startups: How Crucial Is This Decade?

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In the coming decade, IoT will be used extensively across the industries over the years to come. With increasing demand, the startups, which are the arteries of the ecosystem, have to cater to the demands of Industry 4.0 and deliver effective solutions that can last for years. This article discusses some of the important ingredients for a startup to be successful in the IoT sector.

In last decade, one of the significant technological advancements that the electronics sector witnessed was the adoption of IoT by industries and enterprises. IoT is expected to be adopted across different industries and complement other technologies to make life better.

Startups have an important role to play in this field. Let’s have a look at some of the aspects they should consider while developing IoT solutions and products for industries of the next generation.

Beyond labs

IoT aims to help industries and many other environments in achieving high productivity, efficiency, safe working environment, and low carbon emissions. These IoT solutions are usually developed through research and development at lab scale. After that, rigorous testing is done to validate if these can survive the environment in field.

Unfortunately, majority of the IoT solutions do not succeed beyond laboratories and so do not reach the market. This is because there are a lot of issues related to interoperability. In an IoT system, there are various proprietary technologies communicating with each other to take care of connectivity, security, and regulations. And the developers have to bring all of them into a single platform, which is nearly impossible.

According to CISCO, these issues related to interoperability have resulted in 75% project failures. Moreover, statistics suggest that only one out of six organisations are actually benefiting from implementation of the IoT solutions.

These statistics are very scary, and one of the major reasons for this scenario is perception. A developer from an IT background may claim that 35% of his projects have succeeded, keeping in mind the specifications and features. But from a user’s perspective, only 15% of people say that IoT has helped them. These statistics need to change, and startups must try to take these numbers from 15% to 50% in the next two years, and 80 to 85% in the next 4-5 years.

As said, one of the biggest reasons for failure of IoT solutions is perception. IoT today is like the proverbial elephant that is being looked at by some blind men in their own different ways. Some think IoT is a network of interconnected sensors, some consider it to be just AI and analytics, and some talk about connectivity or applications only.

It is critical to understand that an IoT solution is a complete ecosystem from hardware to connectivity. Imagining IoT products being a complete package, with each aspect given equal importance, is crucial. It is important that we come out of this blind man syndrome and begin our journey in IoT properly.

The approach

For building a helpful IoT solution, one should start thinking of a domain or a vertical to solve use cases. There are many use cases available to start building an IoT platform. The IoT platform we are talking about here is an end-to-end service, right from the hardware to the cloud applications. Installations and after-sales services must be considered in the end-to-end service.

Once the solution is built for the use-case targeted, one can localise it for local needs. It is important to start with a small set of industries, which can be catered to by that solution, and then start building on it. There is no need to build something that is targeted for every use-case as the economics may not favour it.

The operating expense, or opex, is one of the key aspects in launching a solution. It is critical to start generating revenue within 6-8 months of launching the product. That is where the quick solutions for these applications would be helpful. For industries, today, one needs flexible business models.

Also, without a comprehensive partner system, it is very difficult to cater to a complete IoT solution. One needs the right support from everyone, right from chipset manufacturers to cloud service providers. The support will help in development of a nice looking IoT solution that is market-ready.

Anatomy of a successful IoT product or solution is analogous to a healthy human body. We, as humans, try to survive for decades, and we strive to be healthy. Similarly, there is a need to work on the IoT systems that can survive not only for this decade but decades to come.

Hardware

In an IoT system, the heart of the ecosystem is hardware. One can easily get into a trap of developing hardware with multiple interfaces that have multiple applications. With this, the cost of hardware increases. Generic hardware with multiple applications, though good for pilot and PUCs, are not viable for a product targeting a specific use case. Once the application is decided, optimise the hardware with minimal interfaces so that the cost can be brought down. Once the cost is brought down, adoption increases and one can get into a circle of demand and supply.

It is necessary to think about implicit requirements. For example, an asset tracker with GPS might only take 2-3 months to develop from the software side. However, there is a high chance of failure if the following things are not taken care of: hardware watchdogs, device management, edge algorithms for the processing on cloud, firmware over-the-air (FOTA), reduction of cost, IP ratings to sustain in field environments, and power management.

The time to market will drastically reduce if all of these aspects are kept in mind from day one of development. These aspects can also be applicable in multiple genres of hardware to be created in the IoT sector.

Edge devices

Once the hardware has been developed, it is important to ensure that the data flows from and to the hardware, and the processed massage flows to the cloud system. There can be various protocols for data transfer because of various proprietary technologies integrated. One must start working on protocols and manage libraries and SDKs for further reuse. The edge analytics on the device can process the data and send it to the cloud.

There are multiple cloud technologies available today. One of the most interesting from the perspective of a developer is NIDD, which is a part of NBIoT (Narrowband IoT). This is the technology that you might look out for as it is going to revolutionise the way data transfers reliably from hardware to the cloud.

What has haunted us in this journey is weak indoor penetration, lower coverage area, vendor lock-ins, no FOTA support, high-power consumption, high infrastructure and maintenance cost, security vulnerabilities due to unlicensed spectrum, and shared resources among a large pool of devices. These challenges have blocked the arteries of the IoT system. The arteries can be unclogged with the help of open technologies for deep indoor penetration to reach the most difficult areas. For this low-power consumption, high security, coexistence with future technologies, no upfront infrastructure costs, high quality of services, low recurring costs, and non-IP data delivery to reduce payload overheads can help.

Technologies like SigFox need a lot of initial investment and are dependent on people to set up their networks. Therefore, it is better to go with cellular technologies. For example, one of the most mature markets is VTS because people didn’t have other options except 2G. Had there been something like LoRA, solutions would have been figured out around such technologies. Because there was no other option, VTS was adopted. Therefore, it is important to select the technology to adopt after due diligence and evaluation, and make sure it gets adopted by giving less non-viable options.

GDPR and device management

Device architecture is one of the most important aspects of an IoT solution, and many startups nowadays are proficient at these technologies. However, they miss out aspects like GDPR, device management, and FOTA, which are crucial. In addition, security is one of the primary aspects which must be taken care of from day one to succeed in the long run.

The architecture of the solution you build must support all these. There are many horizontal platforms that do these things for you. For startups, these may be available for free the first year, but could prove very expensive when they are actually ready to adopt the technology. Therefore, try to balance by building your own technology using the right open source applications available and the existing available technologies.

Installation and after-sale

These are the most critical aspects that are often neglected. Most of the startups and ventures focus on hardware or the platform, and the installation and after-sales services are left aside. One needs to lend ears to customer feedback and give good after-sale services.

Attention to each aspect in detail will ensure your solutions do not remain in lab but are good enough for use by the masses and would work for years to come. You may work with other ventures as you partners or sub-contractors, if you do not have adequate in-house support for installation and after-sales.

Security

Just like vaccine has become an important part of our lives during current pandemic, security is like the vaccine that must go in each and every IoT system. As the idea of networking appliances and other objects is relatively new, security is not always considered top priority during a product’s design phase. Because the IoT solution providers want to get their products to market quickly, they often forget to take the necessary steps to build security from the start.

After deployment of an IoT system, if there are any security attacks—which is bound to happen sooner or later—it would be extremely painful for the organisation using it as well as the startup. A common IoT device in a highly integrated system can be easily used to infiltrate and attack the larger network, so it is critical to ensure safety of the network and IoT devices connected to it. There are various techniques, strategies, and protocols to ensure that the security is up to the mark.

Personality

After ensuring the wellness of a human body, it is important to develop a personality, which in terms of IoT refers to being a significant provider in one of the domains. Pick up a domain that you can work on the best, build solutions, earn money, and only then start expanding to the other domains. It is important not to be a jack of all trades. For startups, especially, focusing on a particular domain, getting the right people from the domain, and start deploying the solution is the key.

There are various domains in which one can deploy solutions, but there are some technology trends that should not be ignored such as NB-IoT and 5G, which are going to create a big revolution in the IoT sector. Following are some other technology trends that should not be ignored:

  1. Edge and Distributed Computing
  2. Internet of Behaviour
  3. E2E Security
  4. Analytics, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and ML (Machine Learning)
  5. Healthcare Sensors
  6. Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Cars
  7. Agriculture
  8. Digital Twins
  9. Blockchain

The coming decade

In the coming decade, we can expect a shift in the way IoT is implemented in our lives. IoT will find its place everywhere from consumer based IoT products to industrial adaptation.

The success of consumer based IoT devices will lead to its pilot use across different industries.

To meet the requirements of the coming decade, startups and ventures must gear up and work on all aspects of an IoT ecosystem to make sure that the solution delivered is effective in all ways. Startups should have a team that also has, besides software developers, network specialists, hardware developers, and domain experts.

It is important to choose the most optimum communication technology that can scale, is available across the globe, and needs no infrastructure deployment cost. Of course, longevity is also an aspect to be kept in mind. The implicit IoT requirements such as security, device management/FOTA, power management, and hardware watchdogs should not be ignored.

As mentioned earlier, do not ignore installation and after-sales service. Apart from this, make sure to choose open source technologies over proprietary ones for development, as open source provides your scalability; you can expand what you currently do quickly. And,
finally, make sure to democratize IoT with ease and economy of adoption.


The article is based on a presentation by Anand Bhandari, Head of NB-IoT, Smart Utilities and Smart Assets at JioThings. It has been prepared by Darshil Patel, a Technology Journalist at EFY until recently.

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