IoT will mostly be boring, and that’s just fine

This year’s MWC saw talk of IoT become a lot more substantial than previously, but the smart money is going to be on unsexy B2B uses.

We have spoken to a number of companies on the topic of IoT, including Cisco, Ericsson and Actility and they all seem to agree that the level of real-world, commercial activity around IoT has ramped significantly in the past year. However they all tell a similar tale of sensible, grown-up, industrial uses dominating that activity.

IoT will be used to do things like optimising agricultural yields, bringing greater efficiency and security to transport and logistics and helping people manage their use of utilities more effectively. All very worthy and, hopefully, profitable, but hardly the kind of stuff to liven up an MWC highlight reel.

One of the areas all three companies reported the most interest around is traffic management. Simple things like smart traffic lights that respond to weight of traffic and don’t keep cars needlessly stranded at red lights when the road is empty could have a massive impact on congestion.

A demonstration at the Ericsson stand pictured above detailed how the 5G future will enable autonomous vehicles enhanced will all manner of environmental data to not just move around safely but also anticipate hazards or opportunities far in advance and make informed decisions accordingly.

In fact autonomous cars have the potential to solve traffic problems by driving in a far more efficient manner than as flawed humans can manage. Autonomous cars will not only be far less erratic, they will be able to tell each other what they’re planning to do and thus enable pre-emptive action by all cars. Traffic jams could be a thing of the past!

It’s pretty much a given now that the default IoT wireless technology will be NB-IoT, although Actility still insists there will be plenty of uses for the even-lower power LoRa. We have heard some grumbling that, in the rush to get the first 5G standards out of the door, organisations such as the 3GPP have neglected NB-Iot, when it has the potential to provide more immediate business opportunities.

But having said that many of the things that will allow us to unlock the full potential of IoT, such as network slicing, need to be developed at the same time, so there’s limited use in doing one without the other. Regardless the momentum around commercial IoT is undeniable and it’s been good to hear so much more substantial, serious, if boring talk than the wide-eyed hyperbole of yesteryear.

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