IoT still on the up-and-up, both on earth and in space

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Mar 31, 2020

via Flickr ©  medithIT (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © medithIT (CC BY 2.0)

  • Manufacturing, retail and agriculture will account for 70 per cent IoT connections by 2024 
  • Expansion also driven by private LTE networks transitioning to 5G
  • Satellite connectivity for 10.3 million IoT units by 2025
  • Security of systems absolutely vital to the long-term success of IoT

Two new research reports published this morning paint an optimistic picture for the state of the IoT industry and market going forward. Of course the data for them was collected and analysed before the global corona virus pandemic slammed the brakes on the world's economies. Thus while the conclusions and recommendations in the papers remain generally valid, the timescales ascribed within will almost certainly need revising as different economies are likely to recover and rebuild at different rates. We shall see.

The first report, from Juniper Research, finds that the number of global IoT connections will hit the 83 billion mark by 2024, up from the 35 billion achieved to date. That's growth rate of 130 per cent over the next four years and will be driven, in the main, by maturing industrial use cases and then increasing use of private networks leveraging mobile network standards.

The second paper, the "2020 Omdia Satellite IoT Market Report", says the installed base of satellite IoT connections will increase fourfold over the next five years as the cumulative number of connected devices rises to more than 10.3 million from the 2.7 million units that were known to exist at the end of 2019. Importantly, the report covers just directly satellite-connected devices and gateways and explicitly excludes the many hundreds or thousands of devices that will be situated behind each gateway.

The Juniper report, "The Internet of Things: Consumer, Industrial & Public Services 2020", concludes that the manufacturing, retail and agriculture sectors will account for over 70 per cent of all IoT connections by 2024. The report also anticipates that the emergence of cost-efficient private cellular networks will also be a key driver of growth over the next four years with the recent market increase in demand for private LTE networks carrying forward into private 5G networks as technology costs decline.

Sam Barker, the co-author of the report commented, “Industrial networks will need to scale rapidly as industrial IoT users adopt new technologies to expand the services available on their networks", adding the caveat that, "IoT platforms must ensure that the security processes can scale alongside this network growth."

His concern is mirrored in the body of the report itself which notes that the increasing complexity of private IoT networks means platforms will have to focus on maximising security in all the layers of the IoT ecosystem, including devices, connectivity and the platform itself. It urges vendors to implement highly scalable security procedures able to cope with and quickly adapt as network architectures become increasingly complex and also suggests network segmentation be implemented to mitigate the risks of "lateral movement" cybersecurity attacks.

 "Lateral Movement" attacks within a network refers to the techniques that cyber criminals (or "threat actors" as they are euphemistically and rather coyly called by many in the network security vendor community) use to move progressively through a network searching for the key data and other assets that are the ultimate target. A comparison to the progression of the CoVID 19 virus in a human body is inescapable here. 

Lateral Movement attacks by cyber criminals have become more sophisticated over the years but so have defensive strategies deployed against them. The attacks are classified as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) because the attacks can stay hidden in a network for weeks or months before being activated to steal and compromise vital data.

Meanwhile, the "Satellite IoT Market Report" from Omdia finds that the market revenues of the global satellite IoT interconnectivity sector will more than double over the next five years, rising from the US$223 million reported in 2019 to $544 million by 2025. 

It's still not a big number at just over half a billion bucks and the report concedes that the satellite market will account for only a small proportion of overall IoT connections but it does emphasis it will support critical use cases in industries such as the maritime and oil and gas sectors. 

Furthermore, over the next decade or decade and a half, standard terrestrial wireless IoT technologies will be adapted to play a key role in enabling satellite based IoT connectivity. That said, over the near term those technologies adapted for satellite connectivity will have minimal impact and will account for less than 10 per cent of the installed base of satellite-connected IoT devices.

Commenting on the report, Omdia's Sam Lucero, principal analyst of the IoT sector, said, "The IoT’s conquest of space has gained momentum in recent years, with the launch of several high-profile ventures as part of the ‘NewSpace’ movement, involving the development of the private spaceflight industry. These ventures, including SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and the Softbank-backed OneWeb, are bringing satellite-based broadband Internet access to areas underserved by terrestrial networks, and are helping to build credibility and investment for satellite operators focused on the IoT market opportunity as well."

Terrestrial wireless IoT connectivity technologies in general and specifically the set of standards comprising LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, LTE-M, and eventually 5G NR Low Power, benefit from a a big ecosystem compared to proprietary approaches that are usual in the satellite industry. 

This scale keeps costs down, ensures a diversity of suppliers and much easier integration for customers. That's why several satellite operators are looking at using terrestrial wireless standards as the ground-to-satellite link technology to replace current proprietary satellite industry connectivity technologies. While some providers only look only to the use of terrestrial technologies for local area networking in conjunction with local gateways containing traditional satellite backhaul links, others intend to replace proprietary satellite connectivity links entirely with terrestrial wireless standards.

Thus it is Omdia's belief that terrestrial wireless technologies will have a long-term, (i.e. 10-to 15-year) impact on the satellite IoT industry and expects, within that timeframe, that the distinction between a satellite IoT device and a terrestrial IoT device will disappear completely and that "any device with embedded mobile connectivity will be capable of roaming onto satellite networks when out of range of terrestrial infrastructure."



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