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    11 IoT trends
    to watch in 2020

    What’s the buzz for the start of the new decade?

    The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to solidify its position as one of the defining technologies of our time—and 2020 could prove its most auspicious year yet. That’s because it promises to be the year when 5G goes mainstream, with all the implications that for IoT systems that rely on superior connectivity.

    But there will be more than 5G to define the upcoming year for the IoT. What follows is a view into 11 trends likely to characterize the IoT’s development throughout the year.

    TREND #1: Sustainability will lead the conversation

    In looking towards 2019 last year, we discussed how demand for IoT-based climate change solutions would intensify. A year later, public consciousness of the growing environmental crisis is even higher. And IoT technology is in an even better position to help.

    The IoT fosters efficiency by design. Smart production apparatuses can fine-tune themselves in response to changes in production environment—“turning themselves off” when materials inputs are lagging. Smart cityscapes can eliminate situations in which idle away gasoline at stoplights. And so on.

    The numbers are impressive. According to one source, IoT applications could “accelerate the reduction of global emissions by up to 15% by 2030.” According to another source, scaling up 36 solutions, many of them largely dependent on connected tech, could cut emissions in half by 2030.

    TREND #2: 5G + AI will give rise to digital manufacturing—and product hyper-customization will follow

    Speaking of 5G, it’s a smart bet that this year will see the full emergence of digital manufacturing, powered in part by the improved connectivity the new standard offers. In such manufacturing, computer platforms control a range of systems functioning at high levels of integration. Operational data feeds from sensors into the platforms’ AI-driven analytical engines, letting the platforms refine in real time how those complementary systems work. The results are levels of efficiency and productivity of which pre-IoT manufacturing could only dream.

    Another result could be hyper-customization of products. Now, by customization in mass production we don’t mean what we did a few years ago. At issue is no longer the running shoe that comes in several color schemes. Rather, it’s a running shoe built exactly for your foot and your foot alone.

    3D scanning and modelling tech will support this capacity on the consumer end. On the production end, what will make it happen is a manufacturing base that IoT technology has made newly responsive. Connected tech will have the flexibility to change on a dime from making this product variant to making that one. And in logistics, sensor-enabled tech will make it possible to juggle between the wide range of modular components that the new customization will make necessary.

    TREND #3: Healthcare will continue to lead the pack

    The “medical IoT” has been booming. In 2020 it will continue to boom.

    IoT-driven medical solutions will continue to improve how we provide and consume healthcare services, making them cheaper, more efficient, and more humane. The effects of this may well be the most dramatic in the United States, where the healthcare system satisfies few and represents a divisive political problem. But the effects will make themselves felt across the world.

    Across the world, sensor-driven connected technology will move procedures out of top-heavy institutions like hospitals and into our homes. Such technology, with its data-sharing capabilities, will make possible real-time monitoring of blood pressure, blood sugar levels, heartbeat patterns, and more.

    Vigilance will be required to ensure that this monitoring technology doesn’t become surveillance technology. The security of such devices is also a real issue. That said, the upside of these breakthroughs is enormous. They have the potential to make care cheaper, less bureaucratized, and generally more accessible. AI applications offering at-home medical diagnoses may make doctor visits less necessary. Power will likely shift from the medical institution to where it should be: the patient.

    Last but not least, the data that connected tech generates promises to drive research breakthroughs.

    TREND #4: Predictive maintenance will energize the industrial IoT

    Predictive maintenance is one of the most powerful applications of the industrial IoT (IIoT). Sensor-equipped industrial equipment generates data that AI apps can use to monitor status and even predict failure—a state of affairs that’s making obsolete the reactive, planned, and proactive maintenance regimes of the past.

    Predictive maintenance can largely eliminate industrial downtime, with all of its costs. It can also make facilities safer. Now managers can know more or less exactly when that gasket will blow, and make sure it doesn’t happen.

    As computing power advances, we’ll see predictive maintenance capabilities become available to more than just large enterprises.

    TREND #5: Digital twins will start to go mainstream, helping to drive IoT investment

    Digital twinning is another IIoT-enabled technology that will continue to come into its own.


    A digital twin is a virtual model of a component or system, one that assimilates the same sensor-fed data that its physical analogue does. Using twins, managers can experiment with processes, plan for contingencies, and make informed predictions about what might go wrong (or right).


    The proliferation of digital twin tech in industry will be testament to another 2020 trend: more IoT investment. According to 2019 Microsoft research, 85% of companies had at least one industrial Internet of Things project underway. A year from now, 94% of respondents will.

    TREND #6: Edge computing’s growth will make security an acute issue - Blockchain will offer a solution

    As the IoT burgeons, with more devices joining stressed networks, edge computing will continue to gain in importance. Its ability to cut latency, preserve bandwidth, and move data-processing closer to where the data is will be indispensable.

    But each IoT device represents an attack point for bad actors. In light of the problem, a security breakthrough is required, and blockchain may provide it. The conversation about this decentralized ledger technology as an IoT security solution remains in its early stages, but should take a meaningful step forward in 2020.

    TREND #7: AI will remain a big deal

    No surprise here. The AI revolution is just starting, and it’s likely to change how we live (for the better) in a way we can't yet imagine.

    One thing that is clear, however: AI will be key to the functioning of IoT systems, and especially industrial IoT systems. Enormous data streams will continue to power the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And ever more powerful AI tools will be required to capture these streams and transform them into insights that humans can put to use.

    TREND #8: People will feel the lack of global connectivity footprints and accepted standards

    Last year, interoperability was a big part of the IoT conversation. This year the conversation has widened.


    Fostering interoperability is still crucial if IoT applications are to achieve scale. But the stakes will be higher. Devices and systems will increasingly have to function hitch-free across borders, across standards, across the globe. A situation in which IoT practitioners have to choose between a range of wireless connectivity options will become more and more untenable. The lack of connectivity standardization will create increasing friction. The lack of hardware and software standardization will, too.


    Some observers foresee a situation in which a small number of competing IoT “operating systems” emerge, just like they have in the computing world, where the Mac, Linux, and Windows triumvirate maintains stability. These observers look to governments and standards-making bodies like the IEEE to impose some order on the chaos.

    TREND #9: Smart cities will continue to emerge—slowly but surely

    Last year we wrote that smart city applications would take a leap forward. This year we might put things differently: smart city applications will continue to make the steady progress they’ve been making for years now.


    A city doesn’t become smart overnight. The smart city is an evolving thing that develops via the adoption of new technologies, each of which has a role to play in the urban matrix—or via improvements to existing technologies. The smart city will continue to sneak up on us. One day, we’ll wake up and realize that we’re inhabiting a very smart environment indeed.


    We might look to New York City for an example—no one’s idea of a leader in “smart” urban planning. And yet, even in New York. smart applications have been proliferating. Autumn 2019 saw the New York subway unveil tap-and-go turnstiles, which will generate data that can be used to improve the troubled transit system. Toll booths are fast disappearing, replaced by sensors, and smart traffic signaling is improving bus performance. The city’s sensor-based Midtown in Motion platform has been monitoring traffic congestion for almost a decade now.


    And so it goes: incremental progress towards a more livable city. If such improvements can multiply even in a hard-to-govern behemoth of a city like New York, they can multiply anywhere.

    TREND #10: Retail personalization will be the new normal

    Retail is in flux. But one thing we can predict with confidence is that we’re entering an age of retail personalization.

    We talked above about how IoT tech in logistics and manufacturing, and scanning and modelling tech in stores, are making it possible to provide customers with customized mass-production items. Other IoT-based retail tech also puts the customer at the center. In-store beacons can pick up the presence of particular customers as they enter and beam personalized promotional offers to their phones. Map apps can direct customers to the items they’re looking for. Cashier-less stores can get busy customers out the door without waiting in line.

    As consumers start to accept such breakthroughs as normal, retailers will have to improve their games, triggering competition that benefits customers.

    TREND #11: Social issues will be more in focus than ever before

    Last year we predicted that 2019 would see “a new focus on social issues, IoT governance, and user experience.”

    For 2020, we’ll double down on the first element in that list. Social issues are increasingly important in the corporate world, where boardrooms resound with debate on how to foster a more sustainable, more equitable way of doing things. The IoT’s power to help solve our overlapping environmental crises, to create safer and more pleasant work environments, and in general to generate value that can redound to the benefit of all is significant. Companies will see the upside of enlisting that power—and enlist it is exactly what they’ll do.

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