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IoT: Technology Over-Hyped and Under-Secure, Says Singapore Expo

Despite impressive headline figures outlining the growth of the sector, some at Internet of Things World Asia were concerned that the technology had been over-sold, resulting in an increasingly sceptical reception by many industries.

Photo: Going up or going down: Schindler’s smart IoT-enabled lifts.
Going up or going down: Schindler's smart IoT-enabled lifts.
Photo: Going up or going down: Schindler’s smart IoT-enabled lifts.
Going up or going down: Schindler's smart IoT-enabled lifts.

For its second iteration, the Internet of Things World Asia (IoT World Asia) event was keen to build its standing as the region's must-attend exhibition and conference for a sector where "dynamic" is actually something of an understatement. By contrast, the mission statement adopted by the Internet of Things Consortium, the show's organiser, is a bold one – "piecing together the IoT landscape from blockchain to security and from autonomous vehicles to industrial applications" and one many wonder if it can actually live up to.

Addressing the delegates gathered for the Singapore-hosted event, Greg Kanh, the Consortium's President and Chief Executive, seemed quietly confident they could deliver. Opening proceedings by outlining the prospects for all things IoT, he said: "By 2025, there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections globally, with half of these in Asia. IoT spending in the Asia-Pacific region was US$260 billion in 2017 and is expected to top $291 billion by the end of this year. For 2018, China is expected to account for 64% of this spending, followed by South Korea at 10% and India at 9%.

"Despite this, according to 30% of the companies we have surveyed, the biggest barrier to wider IoT implementation is the difficulty in putting forward a compelling case for return on investment. Additionally, the sheer complexity involved with making IoT work means no firm can do it all on its own and no single platform or service can succeed in isolation."

For Charles Reed Anderson, a Singapore-based IoT consultant, there was quite a different challenge on the horizon. Maintaining that the sector had done itself no favours by over-selling its immediate prospects, he said: "The industry has over-hyped expectations. In terms of the number of connected devices, analysts are now having to revise their figures. In 2014, Gartner predicted there would be 25 billion connected devices by 2020. This year, they've had to drop that figure to 20 billion. IDC, however, is still predicting 30 billion, much as it did back in 2014.

"In terms of market opportunity, however, there has actually been a massive 86% drop. In 2014, IDC was predicting that the IoT market would be worth $7.1 trillion by 2020. Its revised projection, however, is now just $1 trillion. While it's still a great market, we do need to reset our expectations and the expectations of senior management.

"The reality is that IoT implementation is very complex. The need for multiple products from multiple vendors to deliver just one solution is an everyday reality – as is the inability of these products to work in tandem with each other or with existing systems. In this region, the problem is then exacerbated by a severe skills shortage."

Providing a similarly circumspect appraisal, Cindy Chua, Head of Marketing for Nokia's Communications Service Provider Business Division in the Asia-Pacific region, said: "At present, IoT is being implemented in silos, with cost efficiency being a key driver for deployment, while, as yet, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or business model. We are certainly yet to see the full potential of IoT in many sectors.

"One area where it is coming into its own, however, is traffic video surveillance systems. From our own experience, being able to perform statistical motion analytics on low-power computers, instead of in a data centre, means timely and effective insights can be easily delivered. Similarly, in the US, we've been monitoring 32,000 miles of rail track seen as at risk from flooding. By utilising weather and hydrological modelling, we have reduced the losses typically caused by derailment by $24 billion. In Asia, meanwhile, we are trialling a fall prediction analytics video application that may prevent one in three falls among the elderly."

Franck Martins, Head of Microcontroller Strategic Technical Marketing Operations in the Asia-Pacific region for ST Microelectronics, the Geneva-headquartered semi-conductor giant, also saw relying on a central data centre for collation as non-viable over the long term. Maintaining that the sheer scale of the data involved brought the whole issue into question, he said: "There will be one billion video cameras worldwide by 2020 and, by then, only 50% of networks will have a transmission capacity of 8mbps or more. By comparison, just one autonomous car will generate four terabytes of data per day.

Photo: Heart attack: The failing to keep pace-maker.
Heart attack: The failing to keep pace-maker.
Photo: Heart attack: The failing to keep pace-maker.
Heart attack: The failing to keep pace-maker.
Photo: Closed-circuit: Locks locked-down.
Closed-circuit: Locks locked-down.
Photo: Closed-circuit: Locks locked-down.
Closed-circuit: Locks locked-down.

"In 2015, the world generated 2.4 exabytes of data. By 2020, this will have risen to 44 zettabytes. The billions of devices generating reams of data make the distribution of AI to the edge an absolute necessity. This will facilitate true real-time processing, enhancing safety, data security and privacy, while reducing power consumption thanks to more efficient data sorting prior to transmission to the cloud."

Among the many believing that NB-IoTNarrowband IoT, a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) radio technology standard that focuses specifically on indoor coverage while offering low-cost, long battery life, and high-connection density – offered at least a partial solution was Dr Abdul Memon, Huawei's Vice-president for Marketing IoT and 5G Solutions. Maintaining that this particular ecosystem is now ready for wider deployment, he said: "There are 14 chipset vendors for NB-IoT, with 10 million of our chipsets alone having shipped in 2017. In total, 23 module vendors are now utilising this chipset for some 3,000 applications and solutions across the world.

"Our target for 2018 is 40 million NB-IoT connections across a range of applications – including smart cities, smart industries and smart life sectors. Already, in partnership with Schindler, the Swiss transit-management specialists, we've seen predictive maintenance costs reduced by 50%, smart meters on transmission lines reducing losses by 34% and the smart visualised management of city street lights cutting energy consumption by up to 80%."

Looking at IoT more strictly within the commercial environment, Thomas Heinzerling, Senior Vice-president of Advanced Operations Service for Linde AG, the world's largest supplier of industrial gases, was keen to outline his company's digital plant strategy. Singling out all the benefits the business is already seeing, he said: "We've been collecting data on all our plant and production activities since 2009. Today, 650,000 data points are collected from our global network of plants – of which there are currently more than 1,000 – every minute of the day.

"Our remote operations centres – two of which are in Asia – then use models, filters and advanced algorithms to generate insights. These have enhanced the operation of our plants in many ways, including eliminating unplanned downtime, improving equipment performance and reducing raw-materials costs. For us, the key has been to utilise and leverage on existing data within legacy systems rather than to focus on installing new hardware."

Regardless of approach, application, budget or expectations, there was one area where delegates displayed a degree of consensus – security. In particular, many were concerned that the wider deployment of IoT could possibly create an increased number of weak links along the overall data-protection chain.

Acknowledging this, Natalia Khudoklinova, Business Analyst for the Future Technologies Division of Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-headquartered cybersecurity provider, said: "IoT is far more complex than many people think and this definitely has security implications. Every point of its complex structure has potential vulnerabilities, with different weaknesses evident at different points. Some 57.5% of gateways, for instance, use Linux, an operating system that had 381 identified vulnerabilities last year, up from 63 in 2007. In recent months, there have also been at least five major botnet attacks, with the average financial loss from a single distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack now running at about 8% of total revenue.

"In the case of IoT, though, it raises that stakes from a DDOS or ransomware attack being just about financial loss to, potentially, being an actual matter of life or death. Recently, for instance, the FDA recalled a range of pacemakers made by St Jude Medical / Abbott, an Illinois-based medtech business, when it transpired that it was possible for outside agents to take control of the implants.

"In other instances, though, it's the companies themselves that cause their own problems. Lockstate, for instance, a Colorado-based manufacturer of smart locks, sent out a firmware update that rendered the keypads on hundreds of its locks inoperable. With the use of IoT only likely to expand, there is the distinct possibility that the number of such incidents will expand right alongside it."

Photo: Internet of Things World Asia: Asia-Pacific set to be home to half the world’s IoT devices by 2025.
Internet of Things World Asia: Asia-Pacific set to be home to half the world's IoT devices by 2025.
Photo: Internet of Things World Asia: Asia-Pacific set to be home to half the world’s IoT devices by 2025.
Internet of Things World Asia: Asia-Pacific set to be home to half the world's IoT devices by 2025.

The 2018 Internet of Things World Asia event took place from 18-20 September at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore.

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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