The realm of the Internet of Things encompasses more than just the latest products. As the network of connected devices grows — the number worldwide is expected to reach over 29 billion in 2027 — so do the policies, responsibilities and innovations that surround it, all of which contribute to successful IoT integration.

With help from Steve Statler, the chief marketing officer at IoT technology provider Wiliot, TechRepublic has identified the top four trends emerging in IoT that U.K. businesses should be aware of: the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PSTI) Act, narrowband IoT, AI-augmented IoT and new memory technologies.

Tech decision makers need to ensure all their devices are compliant with the PSTI Act or they may not be safe from cyber threats, while narrowband IoT could make a host of new devices available to remote businesses. The continuous development of AI-augmented devices and new memory technologies could also see a range of high-performance devices becoming more affordable.

SEE: Top IIoT Security Risks

1. Compliance with the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act 2022

By April 29, 2024, all IoT device manufacturers, importers and distributors, including refurbished products, in the U.K. needed to comply with the PSTI 2022. This means that, as a minimum:

  • Devices must each come with a unique password. It must not be guessable, discoverable online or based on product information (e.g., serial number) without encryption.
  • The duration of the device’s security support is clearly disclosed.
  • Consumers can easily report security issues to a point of contact.

As a result of the requirements for passwords, the U.K. has become the first country to formally ban easily-guessable default passwords on devices with internet connectivity.

Statler said that “common sense provisions” like these are essential if we want to take full advantage of what IoT can bring industry in the U.K. He told TechRepublic in a call, “The opportunity is to take the biggest, most revolutionary, potent power — which is AI and the cloud — and apply it to the 99% of things that are currently in the dark, that are offline. We won’t get to do that if security is an issue.”

While the requirements of the PSTI Act may seem basic, a study conducted by the Internet of Things Security Foundation revealed that, in 2023, only 56.7% and 56.1% of vendors of popular IoT devices in the E.U. and U.K., respectively, have implemented a vulnerability disclosure policy.

The PSTI Act is indicative of how governments are starting to approach cyber security around the world. In 2019, the EU Cybersecurity Act introduced a robust cyber security certification framework for information and communication technologies products, services and processes in the region. The following year, the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which came into force in the U.S., prohibits agencies from using IoT devices that don’t comply with standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

What does this IoT trend mean for U.K. businesses?

For most businesses in the U.K., the new legislation means it will be important to ensure that all IoT products in use are compliant with the PSTI Act. However, even after that box is ticked, they must take the precautions that the now legally mandated IoT settings facilitate, added Statler.

He told TechRepublic, “The businesses that have adopted IoT need to say, ‘Okay, it’s now the law that I can update the firmware to include security patches, but am I doing it? Am I making sure that the passwords are changed, and do I have the organisational structure to act on it?’”

According to IT security company Zscaler, IoT malware attacks increased by 400% in 2023, and 34 of the 39 most-used IoT exploits have been present on devices for at least three years. Furthermore, research from Microsoft found that 80% of organisations already had IoT integrated into their operations in 2019, so it is likely they are still reliant on outdated technology.

Indeed, unmanaged devices pose a significant cyber security risk. According to the report IoT Device Security in 2024: The High Cost of Doing Nothing by IoT security firm Asimily, IoT devices often:

  • Are built with low-cost software.
  • Are not designed to have any setup protocols before connecting to the internet.
  • Have hard-coded default passwords.
  • Lack vendor support.
  • Are not designed to be updated or taken offline as they are deemed too critical for operations.

In the report, the Asimily analysts wrote, “Once threat actors gain initial access into a network from a discoverable IoT device, they’re able to laterally move deeper into the information architecture to achieve their goals.

“At the individual device level, IoT equipment is particularly vulnerable to common security pitfalls. Even one unprotected device can lead to a potentially damaging attack. These challenges need to be addressed to account for rising attacks on IoT devices.”

2. Increased connectivity from narrowband IoT

Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT, is a low-power, long-range fixed wireless network that can connect low data demand assets like street lights and underground water sensors. In February 2024, BT launched its NB-IoT network in the U.K., making it the second telecoms operator to do so after Vodafone in 2017. Virgin Media O2 plans to finish its own rollout of a NB-IoT network by the end of the year, while nothing has been announced publicly about Three UK’s since 2019.

BT’s NB-IoT was introduced to help fast-track smart cities in the U.K., as it will enable many processes involving these low data demand assets to be automated, like leak detection, smart lighting and parking monitors. It will also extend the battery life and improve the efficiency of the IoT devices, ultimately reducing costs.

The expansion of the NB-IoT network to more rural locations could also positively benefit the environment. Irrigation is known to be one of the least sustainable agricultural practices — a 2018 study found that 40% of irrigation water depletes crucial environmental flows. Biocides negatively impact surface and groundwater quality while overwatering can damage nearby soil quality and ecosystems. Variable-rate irrigation systems utilise IoT sensors, controllers and actuators to adjust irrigation rates based on factors such as soil moisture levels, crop needs, weather conditions and field topography. Such technology can reduce water use by 15%, according to a 2020 study, and be repurposed to precision spray biocides.

What does this IoT trend mean for U.K. businesses?

U.K. businesses that make use of low-power technologies for applications like environmental monitoring, livestock tracking, gas and water metering and smart alarm systems, especially in remote areas, will reap the benefits of the expansion of NB-IoT networks.

Statler told TechRepublic, “Having narrowband IoT gives you the price and the performance that will allow new classes of IoT devices to be deployed and start to bridge the gap between the 99% of things that are offline and all of the business benefits of applying AI and connectivity to them.”

Chris Keone, managing director of BT’s Division X, said in a press release, “Growing numbers of businesses are beginning to realise the benefits of IoT applications, and our U.K.-wide NB-IoT network opens up a wide range of connectivity solutions for monitors, sensors, and other smart devices.”

3. AI improves IoT performance

Qualcomm Technologies announced in April 2024 a new embedded AI platform, RB3 Gen 2 Platform, designed to improve the speed of AI processing on IoT devices. This is indicative of the growing trend of sensors, microcontrollers and other IoT hardware being augmented with AI technology to improve their performance.

The modus operandi of the majority of IoT devices is data collection and, according to the International Data Corporation, the total amount generated by IoT devices will be 80B zettabytes by 2025. As well as being directly useful, this data can be used to train AI models that give the IoT device new functionality.

Statler told TechRepublic, “This mega trend of connecting everything to the internet, you’re overwhelmed with data, and everyone’s short of time and impatient. So how do you solve that? Well, that’s where AI comes in.

“(AI) has the ability to take a stream of data from IoT and turn it into actionable events, insights and alerts. It also allows you to have conversations with this kind of omniscient IoT visibility platform.

“Furthermore, the data that is produced by all of these sensors requires machine learning in order to distil it into the basic actionable events. So beyond just having a conversational interface with IoT, machine learning and AI are necessary to make sense of this low level data.”

For example, AI facilitates predictive maintenance in IoT devices by analysing data patterns to anticipate potential failures before they occur — such as in titanium cutting machinery and wind turbines — enhancing safety and uptime. It can also optimise energy consumption by dynamically adjusting settings to minimise waste and improve efficiency, as in the Verdigris Smart Building Management System. Other potential applications in IoT devices include demand forecasting and natural language interfaces.

SEE: Top 5 AI Trends to Watch in 2024

What does this IoT trend mean for U.K. businesses?

According to the 2023 Industry in Motion report by electronics company RS, the average hourly cost of manufacturing plant downtime in the U.K. is £5,121, meaning that AI-augmented IoT has significant scope to lower this figure. McKinsey analysts claim that predictive maintenance can increase production line availability by up to 15%, thereby reducing maintenance costs by up to 25%. Savings can also be made in energy efficiency, with IBM reducing the energy consumption of cooling systems in its commercial buildings by 30% since applying machine learning IoT.

Jeff Torrance, senior vice president in industrial and embedded IoT for Qualcomm, said in the RB3 Gen 2 announcement, “Coming soon, we will be expanding our portfolio of IoT products to address high-performance, industrial grade solutions that will bring a new era of intelligence, functional safety, and robust high-performance compute and I/O capabilities to the most demanding industrial applications.”

With new technologies improving the speed of AI processing on the IoT device and raising the bar for performance, a wider range of products can be expected to become more accessible to businesses of different budgets in a demonstration of “trickle-down technology.” Statler said that moving the processing from distributed architectures to “closer to the edge,” on top of augmenting it with AI, is the key to this. “That’s how it becomes more economic and it can scale,” he told TechRepublic.

Those who rush to take advantage of these AI-powered devices should be wary that they can also open up a new realm of cyber threats. According to Kaspersky Digital Footprint Intelligence, up to 17% of organisations think AI and IoT are either “very difficult” or “extremely difficult” to protect, while only 8% and 12% of AI and IoT users, respectively, believe their companies are fully protected.

4. New memory technologies expand market

In March 2024, data provider TrendForce reported that the prices of DRAM and NAND flash, traditional semiconductors used in IoT devices, had dropped due to weakened demand. That being said, research into more sophisticated memory technologies is not slowing down. In January 2024, a Nature paper unveiled a new “superlattice” that could form the basis of “one of the frontrunners for energy-efficient data storage and computing,” according to the authors.

Indeed, a number of non-volatile memory technologies are starting to be prepared for IoT devices, such as magnetic RAM (MRAM) and resistive RAM. These chips enable faster data access and lower power consumption during data storage and retrieval operations, enhancing the performance and efficiency of IoT devices.

SEE: How to Test Your RAM With Windows Memory Diagnostic

What does this IoT trend mean for U.K. businesses?

In a similar manner to AI-augmented IoT, the increasing sophistication of top-of-the-range chips coupled with the price drop of traditional flash memory will help democratise a new generation of IoT devices for U.K. businesses. “As MRAM $ per GB costs approach those of SRAM (static RAM), this replacement could cause significant market expansion,” wrote storage consultancy firm Coughlin Associates for its report Emerging Memories Branch Out.

Statler agreed, telling TechRepublic, “The cost of the wafer is relatively fixed… so the more memory chips I can get on there, I’m basically amortising that cost.”

He added that new memory technologies could improve IoT power efficiency, meaning smaller batteries are required, reducing the overall size of the device and manufacturing costs. “Having memory that consumes less power will be good for the environment and for the cost of devices,” he told TechRepublic.

“As cost goes down, adoption goes up, new use cases become possible. This is one of the things that is driving more pervasive access to IoT.”

As new technologies drive up IoT adoption, this raises the bar for what it takes to be competitive in a particular industry. “More and more businesses need to be technology savvy, and that puts a burden on them,” Statler told TechRepublic. “If you’re going to be successful, you need to kind of understand more about it than you did last year.”

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Catch up on the week’s essential technology news, must-read posts, and discussions that would be of interest to IT pros working in the UK and Europe. Delivered Wednesdays