All the way along the IoT supply chain, it's becoming increasingly easier to buy and deploy rich functionality rather than needing to build it all yourself - good news for everyone from device vendors to integrators. Here, we explore recent innovations for device vendors to adopt.
Licensed telco operators have now largely rolled out support for CAT-M and NB-IoT (low bandwidth, low power comms on 4G networks), albeit still requiring quite expensive modems.
Amongst the unlicensed LPWAN technologies, it's become a two horse race between Sigfox (claiming more than 6 million devices connected) and LoRa providers such as The Things Network (whose map is currently showing more than 5,000 live gateways).
For cellular connections, e-SIM and i-SIM make it easier than ever to deploy devices that can roam globally without being tied in to specific operators.
And for its sheer novelty, our eye was caught by Nodle's unusual "peer to peer drive-by" approach to reusing Bluetooth connections.
By combining these technologies, vendors such as Sensize are able to provide global device tracking at low cost with great battery life.
2. Generic IoT clouds... and gateways?
The "Big 3" cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google) seem to have - obviously - won the IoT cloud battle, and increasingly manufacturers are ensuring that their devices can connect to the cloud "out of the box", as in, without the customer having to write additional software. MQTT has become the standard at the heart of everything, and JSON is the most popular language for data exchange.
Cloud vendors are now trying to expand out to the gateway "hub" that often sits between edge devices and the internet. A couple of years ago, AWS bought and open-sourced a common RTOS - the real time operating system at the heart of most IoT gateways - and set about making it simple to configure it to use with their cloud IoT service. And just this week, Microsoft announced it was doing exactly the same.
The continuous game of catch up between the Big 3 cloud vendors continues to ensure that there really is a choice of similar offerings from AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google - commoditisation which helps the rest of the ecosystem.
3. Edge computing
The increasing power of edge computing technologies makes it possible for battery-powered devices to do really amazing things. We loved the story of how Sensory provides a cunning combination of hardware and software to recognise the "Ok Google" keyword with minimal power.
4. Trust and security
Earlier this month, we wrote about the importance of security and how the idea that trust and security being embedded from Day 1 is really catching on. Of particular interest is Microchip's secure provisioning technology and SecureThingz' acquisition by software tool vendor IAR.
On the trust side of things, startup Jitsuin looks set to be an interesting player - they're addressing the problem of proving that important equipment has been maintained and updated through its lifecycle.
5. Location technologies
For mobile devices that need to report their location, GPS (or more generally "GNSS") systems such as the module offerings from uBlox are now so small that they look like chips. uBlox even claim to be currently working on centimetre-level precision. Meanwhile, startup FocalPoint is building a "S-GPS" offering, apparently able to upgrade existing GNSS solutions to deliver much better accuracy, even indoors.
For local positioning, beacon technology is mature, and Bluetooth has just announced an extension of the spec to enable "angle of arrival" detection.
Many IoT sensors have to be deployed far from mains power and battery replacements can really damage the business case, so it's interesting to see innovations which reduce or eliminate this need.
EnOcean are the veterans of so called power scavenging or energy harvesting. If the devices are likely to be near other wireless devices, then Drayson Freevolt provides an interesting way to scavenge power from WiFi frequencies. Meanwhile, 8power can help power devices that are monitoring rotating machinery or other places with a lot of vibration.
Whatever the power source, as the smartphone market drives sensors and processors to ever lower power requirements, ultimately battery life can extend until it reaches the life of the product, at which point is can be made sealed-for-life (and thus be really waterporoof, and/or embedded within another product). Disruptive Technologies are perhaps the most interesting recent example.
The smart IoT companies doing a lot with a little
IoT security: in brief, but also in full
An interesting comparison of characteristics of NB-IoT vs LoRa
Sensory brings low-power wake words to mobile app
Silicon Labs bets on Bluetooth for IoT-based location services