IoT moves beyond the possible at Mobile World Congress

IoT moves beyond the possible at Mobile World Congress

The Internet of Things is at long last moving beyond the hype, these technologies increasingly embedding themselves in our daily lives. Can society keep up?

This was my fifth or sixth time at MWC and, my, how the tech exhibition has grown, even in that time.

The move from Fira de Montjuic to Fira de Barcelona has seen the number of stands, exhibitors and attendees (approx 110,000) boom in size to the point where this “mobile” show now caters for anyone and anyone pertaining to offer technology-driven solutions aimed at businesses or consumers.

This year’s show played host to everything from autonomous vehicles and mixed-reality headsets to robotics and hoverboards, and naturally IoT placed a huge part across the board, with these technologies forming at the backbone at many products or concept designs.

As just some of the better examples, I saw the Peugeot concept car ‘Infinity’, which aimed to collect data from smart devices and connect these to Samsung’s Artik IoT cloud to adjust the ride or connect you back to your smart home services. I saw an IoT-connected smart life jacket from KT that could save lives at sea, a connected screwdriver advising on torque and maintenance, and plenty of connected and electric vehicles. On the back-end, LTE chipsets, gateways and connectivity platforms.

There were some smart cities initiatives and partnerships, from InterDigital partnering with Harman’s IoT suite to make processes for water and air quality monitoring in urban areas faster and more efficient, to a new sensor platform for smart cities from Libelium.

There was even an NB-IoT connected seal, with this to become reality in Scotland later this year (thanks to work from The University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit).

Here’s my highlights from the show:

Products meet Potential

IoT has been a lot of “ifs, whats and maybes” to date but MWC showed it had moved beyond it. Proof of concepts had largely manifested into products and some cases studies, especially in the early-adopter markets of transportation and manufacturing.

Furthermore, whilst still siloed — as many tech products have always been, and always will be — there was talk of greater interoperability and more consolidation on standards. Manufacturers are increasingly building equipment to account for a variety of protocols, like NB-IoT AND LoRa for example.

Progress is being made, technically, and the hype is dying down and coming reality. There’s more focus on practicalities, and that can only be good for mainstream adoption and business understanding.

LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT fight continues

Tucked away in the NextTech hall there were a number of vendors promoting LoRaWAN technologies, including IoT platform Actility. It was certainly busier, and less half-baked, than last year’s effort.

NB-IoT, obviously, got a big plug at GSMA’s Innovation City, from these connected seals to screw drivers (supposedly live in an Asian factory today, thanks to China Mobile, Ericsson and Intel). GSMA also pushed LTE-M, which confused me slightly as to where that leaves NB-IoT – will European operators adopt both or just one of these going forward?

NB-IoT, set for commercial deployments next year once 3GPP has signed off on the final spec, runs over existing cell infrastructure and GSMA head of partnerships Peter Montgomery told me that NB-IoT offers benefits such as always-on connectivity and availability (an issue for LoRa and Sigfox in some areas), faster data rates and operating on licensed spectrum.

Cisco Jasper spoke of completing live trials of NB-IoT on its Control Center connectivity platform, making it one of the first IoT platforms to support the cellular standard. More generally on networking, Ericsson partnered with Telefonica to demonstrate the remote control of a car from 50 feet away.

Whatever the standard, low-latency and high data transmission will be vital moving forward in the world of IoT. This fight will go on because NB-IoT, despite predictions of its demise, has a big future.

Industrial Internet challenges so strategy needed

IoT going mainstream is inevitable, but it was poignant to note that MWC’s Industrial Internet panels highlighted that even large global manufacturing companies, the poster children of the Industrie 4.0 movement, are forced to contend with issues around adoption.

These issues, such as legacy system integration, culture and shifting business models, will have to be tackled by other companies and other industries at a later date, too.

The IoT will have a transformational effect on society and business. Indeed, it already is in transportation, utilities and cities. However, enterprises need to be realistic about what they can achieve and by when, and put the relevant strategy in place.

Still questions to be answered

On the flipside, it’s clear that we still need more answers to key questions.

What are the ethics around autonomous cars? The technology is clearly advancing, but what about the understanding of governments and people? Is the infrastructure in-place for adoption and trials to become reality in the next 3-5 years?

How do we counter the issue of network availability? As evidenced by the recent Amazon S3 downtime, affecting web and IoT services, there is little room for downtime in a world where IoT connectivity could sustain human lives and economies.

How do we approach personal identifiable data in the age of IoT and GDPR? One speaker suggested the ‘Internet of Me’ will appear, with citizens having greater control of where, when and who uses their data- all based on forthcoming GDPR requirements on data portability, deletion and the Right To Be Forgotten. This will be a nightmare for businesses – and that’s before you chuck PII IoT data on top.

What’s the solution to IoT security? In the week two million voice recordings were leaked from Internet-connected teddy bears, MWC organiser hosted IoT security tours to showcase industry improvements on IoT security, but some say that security generally will always play second to product usability and go-to-market speed. Security by design is by no means a given. Expect the breaches to keep rolling in.

IoT today is moving quickly, and it’s starting to have a societal impact. This is arguably just the start.

Doug Drinkwater is an experienced technology journalist and editor, and currently works as EMEA Content Director at IDG. He was formerly Launch Editor and Head of Publishing at IoT publication Internet of Business, with his work also appearing on publications including, IBTimes, Macworld, Mashable, PCWorld, SC Magazine and The Gadget Show Magazine.

Doug Drinkwater
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