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IoT: the mistakes we make, the challenges we face and why "ELEGANT" shows us the right path

Patrizio Pisani. Unidata Spa. Italy


In other posts of this blog [1] our friends and partners of CNIT have well illustrated the challenges and opportunities of new IoT technologies (especially LoraWAN) and how Unidata and the other partners want to enhance them with the Elegant project.

In this short article, I would like to share with you our vision of the IoT market and why we believe that the ELEGANT project responds perfectly to the challenges that the market will propose to us in the coming years.


What does IoT mean?

When in 2014 at Unidata we began to evaluate the possibility of choosing IoT as the "next step" of our business innovation process, I happened to read an interesting report from IBM [2].

That paper described the challenges of the IoT market and the reasons that could prevent its growth.

The first thing we need to agree on is what IoT really is, and what is not IoT but simple legacy M2M.

There have been connected objects for many decades. The typical pattern of those systems was that of closed and centralized networks.

In recent years, the scheme of open networks connected to centralized Cloud has begun to be adopted in many applications.

The "real" IoT will express its full potential only when the scheme is that of open networks in completely decentralized and distributed architectures.


Figure 1: Connected objects and architectures - Source IBM 2014 [2]


We can really talk about IoT if we talk about: "open networks of objects that exchange services in distributed and collaborative cloud architectures, in order to provide people with better products and a better quality of life".

Although a few years have passed since the date of publication, that report is still truly relevant and explains why, not considering the whole traditional market for connected objects, the “real” IoT market is still in a phase of preliminary growth. In the next paragraphs I will try to update the contents of that paper to the current context, highlighting how the ELEGANT project responds in a real way to the proposed challenges.


Mistakes, challenges, and keywords


FUNCTIONAL VALUE


Any device does not improve simply by being connected to the network. My new blender will only be better than the previous one if it makes smoothies better. While this may seem obvious, still today "being connected", or more generally "being able to read sensor data", remains the prevailing value proposition in many applications.

Even in the world of "primary water metering" it is time to look beyond. Connecting millions of smart meters that send billions of data a year makes sense only if we imagine the water system as a "smart grid" that will allow us to manage the balancing of the service, producing and distributing the raw material (water) with the minimum energy possible, minimizing losses and managing the fair distribution of a vital resource even in scenarios of low availability.

The simple goal of "doing more readings and invoices in a year at low cost" does not justify such a complex investment, also because, as we will see in the next paragraphs, the economic calculations are often based on underestimated costs of delivery, maintenance, and connectivity.

The added value of the value proposition can only be obtained thanks to AI, machine learning and prediction systems that work on the historical series of the acquired data. ELEGANT helps us implement these services effectively and sustainably


COST OF CONNECTIVITY

The total cost of IoT connectivity is often largely underestimated. The network of Mobile TLC operators is sized based on the number of people present in each territory. In many IoT applications the number of objects is proportional to the number of buildings. Other applications (e.g., agriculture, land control) are implemented in uninhabited areas. Not being able to bear the cost of a new “TLC tower” for each concentrator, it is necessary to think of new business models to make the IoT market economically and environmentally sustainable.


The mobile TLC market is sized for people living above the surface. Unfortunately, many objects, especially in the "water meters" are buried, covered by heavy metal lids.


The true cost of the service increases when you consider the total costs of a closed and centralized vertical cloud infrastructure, which must manage and process these amounts of data.


The ELEGANT approach, which allows us to dynamically distribute intelligence and processing even at the edges of the network, allows us to build sustainable and powerful cost scenarios.


LIFETIME AND MAINTENANCE COSTS


The typical objects of the IoT market, unlike consumer devices, can remain installed in the field for decades. The new Smart Meters will be able to run on primary battery alone for over 20 years. This means that for decades it is necessary to keep them alive and up to date.

There can be no centralized approaches with a real sustainable maintenance cost for a market, such as the IoT one, which plans to connect hundreds of billions of devices.

The only solution is that of a scalable and distributed (pulverized) architecture like the one we are implementing in ELEGANT.


Conclusions


The implementation of open, distributed, and collaborative systems (such as the ones we are building in the ELEGANT project) is not a merely technological vision, or a "thesis" on "technological democracy". It is the innovative basis on which to build sustainable business models both in economic and environmental terms


Bibliography

[1] CNIT, https://www.elegant-h2020.eu/post/giving-power-to-the-edge-how-to-improve-iot-performance-and-keep-security.

[2] IBM, Device democracy. Saving the future of the Internet of Things, IBM Corporation, 2014.