A crowd watches a presentation at the IoT Tech Expo.
Image: IoT Tech Expo.

At last week’s IoT Tech Expo Global event in London, more than 100 speakers, including leaders from Nokia, Netflix, Vodafone, Verizon, Dell and Huawei, presented content and leadership discussions.

Industry experts in the field of the Internet of Things discussed technology and solutions under the concept of “Powering the connected world with IoT.” Smart connectivity, low-power cellular IoT, environmental solutions and AI-powered Industrial IoT took center stage.

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The next generation of Industrial IoT

Asdrubal Pichardo, CEO of PerfectPattern and Vernaio, spoke about new solutions that couple with IIoT devices to maximize performance, avoid disruptions and continually monitor assets.

Pichardo explained that next-generation AI engines can boost IIoT applications for every sector. While AI optimization of IIoT is not new, developing these applications is traditionally a time-consuming endeavor, as the data that IIoT machines and devices produce needs to be cleansed for AI.

Machine learning models that drive AI analytics also require data scientists to sort through large amounts of raw data to select the “features” — data that is valuable in predictive analysis and which the algorithms use.

Pichardo explained that new AI solutions are disrupting the sector because they do not require any data preparation. How do they work? The AI applications are already developed, tested, optimized and proven efficient. They are hosted in the cloud and connect with the shop floor’s IIoT devices via an IIoT gateway or concentrator that connects to an edge device. IIoT devices then feed raw data to the edge device, and the gateway then regularly uploads it to the cloud.

In the cloud, IIoT AI solutions store historical and live data, which they use for a wide range of optimizations, risk detections and resolution guidance. These no-code IIoT solutions are poised to impact all industries significantly, helping them better manage their complex floor IIoT devices and resources with no data science expertise requirements.

To counter disruptions — a main challenge for IIoT — AI cloud solutions are designed to identify the root cause of disruptions. Additionally, they will give out alerts and recommendations, detecting possible disruptions of machines before they happen. IIoT downtime and maintenance can be significantly impacted by these systems.

AI-powered production planning can also optimize production resources while improving time on delivery. AI considers the entire production lifecycle, from raw material input to IIoT devices, workers and stages of production. It can identify gaps and guide planning managers through the elimination of deficits.

Analytics and interconnectivity are now a must. IIoT is reaching a maturity peak, generating streams of terabytes of data through thousands of sensors and devices. The next generation of IIoT can “learn” and improve, driven by data and AI.

Factory floor managers and planning engineers also benefit from one source of truth: AI dashboards that are constantly monitoring all IIoT devices and assets and detecting disruptions before they happen. From energy consumption to bottlenecks or CO2 emissions, every aspect of the production line can be closely monitored throughout the chain.

Pichardo gave a real example of how this intelligent factory concept can impact a company. In the paper industry — where sheet breaks occur, without warning, thousands of times a year, causing plants to stop production and lose material and time — AI-IIoT helped one company detect the breaks before they happened 77% of the time. The total impact of early detection of disruptions for this paper factory plant was estimated at $2.1 million in savings.

Smart connectivity: Low power cellular IoT

As global 2G and 3G networks are sunsetted by operators around the world and new technologies are deployed, the IoT connectivity sector is at a crossroad. Open-RAN and 5G networks are stepping in, and low-power cellular connections have come into the spotlight.

Iain Davidson of Wireless Logic spoke about narrowband IoT and Long-Term Evolution Machine Type communication. He examined the technical and commercial trade-offs between low power, operational efficiency and cost of ownership. Davidson explained that smart connectivity is the key to building more resilient, future-proof, scalable and secure technologies.

“LPWAN technologies, like narrowband IoT and LTE-M, were designed to do things like extend battery life, be more cost-effective, perform better in indoor or underground locations, and be that alternative or migration path from 2G and 3G technologies,” Davidson said.

Davidson then explained that new technologies like LoRaWAN prove to be very efficient but are not available in every country. He added that more mature technologies like 4G LTE Cat 1 are excellent alternatives to narrowband and probably the best choice for some businesses and industries.

Mobile IoT devices equipped with small sensors and longer battery life requirements — for example, those used in smart agriculture or in smart cities — benefit from low-energy connectivity. Device and network features like power saving mode, found in narrowband and LTE, periodically disable a device, putting it to sleep and allowing it to save energy.

Davidson explained that the critical issue is for this type of device to be in suspension mode but still registered to the network. He added that because not all connectivity technologies have this type of features, companies must take energy as a main component to consider when building IoT networks.

Extended Discontinuous Reception is another feature to consider, as it prolongs the PSM capability and helps reduce IoT power consumption further by turning off the receiver periodically.

Consumption will depend on which networks provide these features. Other issues like data transmission frequency, updates and the number of sensors will also affect power consumption. Davidson added that LTE Cat 1 and Cat 4 are the most popular 4G LTE technologies and have been around for more than ten years.

“Narrowband IoT and LTM emerge ratified along LTE Cat 1,” Davidson explained.

Narrowband IoT and LTM are designed to be robust and operationally efficient, provide low latency and deliver true cost ownership. But according to Davidson, companies should not think of these technologies as a panacea. In some instances, narrowband IoT may be a good solution, while other types may be the best fit in different scenarios. The solution? Flexibility.

“Choose connectivity that supports your business model and the all-around product requirements,” Davidson said. “Take advantage of managed connectivity services to help keep your product more agile and indeed more secure.”

Network availability is also key. Companies like Wireless Logic connect over 10 million IoT devices in 165 countries because they offer global coverage through local access to major networks.

When thinking about smart connectivity, leaders recognize the complex regulatory, operational and commercial challenges of cellular IoT. To continue deploying devices built with consumers in mind will not deliver the level of resilience, security and flexibility that IoT requires.

The next generation of IoT products will use 4G, 5G and the latest LPWAN technologies to ensure connectivity and performance throughout the entire lifecycle.

Digital transformation technologies for environmental solutions

Throughout 2022, the environment has been a hot topic for the tech industry. Most companies have recognized the business benefits of saving resources and winning over customers and partners with net-zero supply chains and carbon offset programs, but other organizations are using technology to take a step further.

Pooja Munshi, head of web on the digital transformation task force of the UN Environment Programme, highlighted new tech environmental projects.

“Powered by hyper-connectivity, automation and algorithms, companies are transforming products and services,” Munshi said.

She explained that with up to 45 billion connected devices, the digital transformation creates many environmental challenges. Munshi advocated for technology that can generate real-time planetary scale intelligence, is transparent and can drive outcomes. The UNEP expert highlighted the IoT industry for its optimization opportunities and the edge-cloud for its ability to reduce resource consumption and improve performance.

These technologies can be put to work to solve problems like disaster prediction, planning, agriculture, nutrition and climate. Munshi explained that 104 countries do not monitor their air quality, despite nine out of 10 people worldwide being affected by air pollution. This lack of monitoring is not linked to budget restraints but to the lack of access to open-source technology.

UNEP developed a platform that provides an interactive insight into global air quality status using low-cost sensors, satellite technology, AI and the cloud. The UNEP Air Quality platform allows any user to explore the state of air pollution as it happens freely, search sources of pollution by sector, deep dive into policy action and get information on what is needed to address the climate emergency.

Another UNEP project, developed in partnership with National Geographic, Microsoft, NASA and others, is the UN Biodiversity Lab. Working with spatial data, the platform provides a global map with 400 data layers of nature, protected areas, climate change, sustainable development and more.

The platform’s goal is to support policymakers and other stakeholders with valuable information to use when taking action. Whether developing a new project or trying to make an impact, UNEP uses technologies like IoT, drones, satellites, cloud and edge to build a smart planetary digital ecosystem.

During IoT Tech Expo Global, companies and organizations presented a new vision for the future of IoT that expects 75 billion connected devices by 2030. Combined with AI, cloud and intelligent connectivity, IoT can be leveraged to drive and optimize performance, reduce waste and energy, predict disasters and disruptions, and better inform leaders.

For those wishing to discover more about the subject, this IoT cheat sheet and a look at the top five trends to watch in IIoT will be of assistance.

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