The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we all go about our day to day lives. The developments in IoT capable devices around the world, all connected to the internet, mean that we can do things now, that 10 years ago we could only dream of.
As we move into 2021, the number of IoT devices will continue to grow. According to Statista, the amount of dollars spent on IoT solutions worldwide is expected to almost double in 2021, up from USD $248b to $418b. Astonishingly, by 2025, that number is expected to be $1,567b.
As IoT solution growth continues to rise exponentially, new opportunities to utilise the technology also grow apace. 2020 has thrown up many challenges as we all learn to live with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home has been one of the biggest challenges for most and there is no doubt that IoT technology can help to make people more productive when working from home.
The healthcare sector continues to invest heavily in IoT and the speed of the development of IoT solutions in that sector has been fast-tracked due to the pandemic. As we head into 2021, we expect to see further growth and development in that sector along with retail.
One area which will be brought heavily into focus will be security. With the rapid development of IoT solutions to meet demands, comes potential issues. Developers are pushing out solutions faster than ever and this can leave issues with security which need to be addressed. If we are to truly benefit from the immense opportunities presented by IoT, we need to ensure we are developing a secure ecosystem which people can trust.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at what we expect to be eight of the biggest trends in IoT in 2021.
1. More productive remote working
COVID-19 has meant that working from home (WFH) is now the norm for a lot of people around the world. With so many houses around the world equipped with home assistants such as Alexa or Google Home, we can expect an increase in the number of applications designed to help us work more efficiently from home, helping us to manage our day whilst working remotely.
Expect to see IoT powered applications such as intelligent automated scheduling and calendar tools as well as better quality, more interactive video conferencing. Microsoft is a great example of this, and their Virtual Stage platform uses Azure Kinect sensors to enable immersive, AI-powered presentations that will keep us better engaged.
It’s not just remote workers who will benefit from IoT advances in 2021. When companies still require a physical presence, IoT technology means that assets can be more effectively monitored remotely, and human engineers can be alerted should any issues develop.
2. Edge computing
The adoption of edge computing will become more significant for IoT devices to overcome the drawbacks of cloud computing like low bandwidth and latency issues faced during real-time data processing. Edge computing is a more cost-efficient and accurate data processing method for IoT devices.
What is edge computing? With edge computing, rather than IoT devices sending all the data they collect to the cloud for analysis and extraction of insights, this work is carried out directly on the devices themselves.
Companies need to make decisions based on IoT data faster than ever before to realise the full value of the devices on the network. With the confluence of 5G networks, an increase in IoT and IIoT devices, and a dramatic increase in the amount of data we are collecting, edge computing is going to be more important than ever as we head into 2021.
3. Evolution of AI and data analytics
Data analytics plays a significant role in efficient business management to make important decisions based on a thorough analysis of the collected data. The advanced AI-driven data analytics solutions, powered by AI algorithms and Big Data technology, can gather a large amount of information, analyse it in real-time and derive useful insights from it.
This powerful integration of AI, Big Data and IoT devices will enable users to make effective and important business decisions with ease based on the insights and information gathered by the data analytics.
IoT not only helps to monitor the behaviour and spit out data; it’s also about processing that data quickly and making recommendations based on those findings.
4. Blockchain technology
Data security for IoT-enabled devices is one of the major concerns for users. Blockchain technology emerges as the most reliable solution to ensure data protection through encryption techniques and peer-to-peer communication without intermediaries. Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology is among the top-most IoT trends that address major IoT security and scalability challenges.
According to Deloitte, blockchain can help alleviate the security and scalability concerns associated with IoT in the following ways:
- The distributed ledger in a blockchain system is tamper-proof and this removes the need for trust among the involved parties. No single organisation has control over the vast amount of data generated by IoT devices.
- Using blockchain to store IoT data would add another layer of security that hackers would need to bypass in order to get access to the network. Blockchain provides a much more robust level of encryption that makes it virtually impossible to overwrite existing data records.
- Blockchain provides transparency, by allowing anyone who is authorised to access the network to track the transactions that happened in the past. This can provide a reliable way to identify a specific source of any data leakages and take quick remedial action.
- Blockchain can enable fast processing of transactions and coordination among billions of connected devices. As the number of interconnected devices grows, the distributed ledger technology provides a viable solution to support the processing of a large number of transactions.
- By providing a way to enable trust among the stakeholders, blockchain can allow IoT companies to reduce their costs by eliminating the processing overheads related to IoT gateways (e.g. traditional protocol, hardware, or communication overhead costs).
5. IoT in retail – safer and more efficient stores and supermarkets
One of the sectors hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic has been brick and mortar retail. With lockdown restrictions varying worldwide, many retailers have been forced to close their doors for periods of time and for some, this has been devastating. Those that have coped the best are those with a strong online presence.
As we head into 2021, we can expect to see an increase in models such as Amazon’s fully automated supermarkets, that cut down on the need for non-essential human contact. Automation via IoT-enabled devices is also expected to grow in the massive fulfilment centres that dispatch inventory to stores.
Other developments in the retail space is the expected move closer to a cashless society with an increase in contactless payment options including the wider rollout of pay-by-face. This will bring with it its own challenges; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the move towards a cashless society due to fears around the handling of coins and notes.
6. Healthcare investment in IoT to continue rapid growth
The global pandemic has led to a huge increase in IoT automation within the healthcare sector and heavy investment in IoT technology. As we head into 2021, when the repercussions of the pandemic are likely to continue, we expect to see further heavy investment in the industry.
From telemedicine to automated home help for the elderly and disabled, smart wearables, sensors, and connected devices will continue to change the way healthcare is delivered. It will also be used to minimise unnecessary contact in situations where the risk of viral contamination is particularly high, for example, in care homes and infectious disease wards within hospitals.
Strong growth has also been seen in the market for devices that will allow the elderly to remain independent in their own homes for longer. This will include tools utilising AI to detect falls or changes to regular daily routines that could alert relatives or healthcare providers that intervention could be required.
IoT will make smart buildings out of healthcare facilities, drive revenue, and help healthcare providers save on costs.
7. Emergence of smart cities
The “smart city” concept has been growing in popularity over recent years, with IoT technology used to monitor traffic on road networks, use of public transport, footfall around pedestrianised areas, and usage of civic amenities such as recycling centres and rubbish collection.
Smart cities not only focus on making life comfortable for people. These cities improve the social, environmental, and financial aspects of urban living. And as city populations grow, smart cities will become a key ingredient in improving sustainability and quality of living.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated the timeframe for the development of smart cities. With safety concerns around public transport, city-centre offices, and recreational facilities such as leisure centres and parks, IoT technology will allow authorities and businesses to better understand patterns of usage as well as more efficiently plan safety measures and emergency response strategies.
8. Focus on security
The IoT is still maturing, and in some cases, it is far from private or secure. With so many devices, IT managers are struggling to understand how many devices are actually connected to their networks leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Not to mention, when are devices active and collecting data, and when are they not?
As we head into 2021, we’ll likely see an increase in the security surrounding smart devices, including AI-driven, automated ability to scan networks for IoT devices. Big tech firms are expected to lead the way in this space and Amazon recently announced a series of new features that enable users to take control of data and privacy settings. You can expect Apple and Google to follow suit as we head into 2021 with a huge focus on the marketing of security features in IoT-enabled devices.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development of IoT technologies, and we can expect that growth to continue exponentially in 2021. Security will need to be at the top of the agenda for IoT developers and we can expect the tech giants to place a lot of emphasis on the security of their platforms in the coming year.
2021 promises to be another year of uncertainty and disruption around the world and IoT technology will provide practical solutions to many of those challenges faced by people working remotely.
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