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    11 IoT trends that will define 2021

    The pandemic has affected—and accelerated—almost everything


    A year of unprecedented disruption and change has come to a close.


    Ahead lies an exciting 2021 when life will presumably get back to something like normal and long-pent-up economic energies should burst forth to drive economic expansion.


    On the tech front, the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to emerge as a transformative influence in how we live. It will play a role in restoring order after pandemic-induced chaos, help welcome customers and employees back to offices, and enable new smart city initiatives.


    And that's not all. Here are 11 things we can expect from the IoT in the year 2021.

    1. The IoT will make shopping safer

    COVID-19 recovery survey of 130 U.S. mayors found that most of them expect a long-term drop in retail shopping and that more than a quarter think restaurant dining will take a permanent hit. Retailers can better weather a potentially difficult recovery period by taking advantage of IoT services that promote both efficiency and safety—a classic win-win.

    This will be particularly important in industries that are both essential and subject to tight margins, like food retail. Next-generation IoT-enabled lighting solutions will come to the rescue here.

    On the one hand, they'll reduce overhead costs by putting to work energy-efficient LED technology. On the other, they'll power sensors that collect, and send for analysis, valuable consumer and other data. Such data will help managers generate more appealing store layouts and easier customer navigation schema, among other things—thus helping to protect profits.

    The same IoT solutions can also enforce evolving safety standards for businesses that can't afford to close—for example, by keeping track of store occupancy levels.

    2. The IoT will make working safer

    Public health authorities, trade groups, and medical organizations issued numerous new health and safety guidelines in 2020. Forrester predicts that at least four of every five firms will incorporate IoT solutions into their on-premise work plans “to enhance employee safety and improve resource efficiency." Among these will be “smart lighting, energy, and environmental monitoring" solutions.
    In a preview of the emerging “Internet of Behavior," smart buildings will rise to the task of ensuring that promised safety standards are implemented, adhered to, and enforced so that employees can be confident that their workplaces are safe. The IoT will help control automated UV-C disinfection lighting capabilities, provide hands-free access and payments, and monitor social distancing protocols.

    3. Cybersecurity will stay atop the agenda

    As a result of 2020's many pandemic-driven adjustments, our daily work and leisure activities are more digitally dependent than ever before. Online credentialing systems control access to everything from coffee and dinner delivery to vital business meetings. This puts even more pressure on data and systems to stay secure and trustworthy. Expect to see a shift to cybersecurity mesh, which focuses on identity and policy enforcement rather than on perimeter defense.
    In addition, expect more clarity about which IoT infrastructure players take cybersecurity the most seriously. Signify, for example, is the first company to receive global security certification from DEKRA for connected lighting systems.

    4. Green deals will drive sustainability and emissions reductions programs around the world

    Massive investments in new sustainable agricultural and manufacturing processes along with emissions containment and reduction are at the heart of the European Union's recovery plan. Given more investment than ever in climate change response and growing attention to biodiversity, this long-term budget will represent just one in a growing class of “green deals" worldwide.

    The IoT plays a significant role in long-term implementation and monitoring of green deals, ensuring that real-world practices meet government expectations and fulfill business agreements. Expect to see numerous governments worldwide propose and adopt similar green deals.

    5. Citywide IoT will come into its own

    The installation of connected street lighting is one of the first major steps toward a modern, city-wide IoT infrastructure. One estimate has it that 14.4 million connected street lights will see installment in North America alone by 2023. Meanwhile, the European Commission plans to deploy 10 million smart street lights by 2025. As smart lighting proliferates, adopters are poised to expand services and realize benefits beyond efficiency and cost reduction. Safety sensor nets, public broadband, and tighter integration with civilian and emergency services now have a solid platform for deployment.

    6. Health care will become more connected

    Telemedicine went mainstream in 2020 as in-office visits were canceled, deferred, or discouraged. This year, connected medicine will have its day. Wearable monitors, sensors, and medication dispensers will help patients and providers collaborate on care at a safe, convenient distance. This will be a win not just for those looking to catch up on stalled treatment, but for consumers who have learned to appreciate expanded digital access to providers and less time wasted in waiting rooms.

    Health care facilities will benefit from connected lighting solutions that integrate smart dimming and hue changing to promote well-being along with safety sensors including smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Motion detectors can multitask as traffic monitors to improve building utilization, navigation aids to help patients and providers throughout the day, and early warning systems for potential safety threats.

    7. Businesses will use IoT insights to rethink corporate real estate needs

    Some of those whose jobs went remote in 2020 won't want to return to offices at all in 2021. Others will negotiate for reduced time on-site.

    The post-pandemic workplace will look very different than it did before. IoT space management will help facilities managers and budget leaders revamp both the size of the traditional workplace and how it gets used. Environmental sensors and controls can help identify high-value meeting rooms and gathering spaces and improve safety for returning workers. Using motion sensors, the same IoT systems can identify low-traffic office areas for real estate expense reduction initiatives.

    8. X-as-a-Service solutions will gain momentum

    Large, inflexible, up-front investments lose their luster when tomorrow is uncertain. The pandemic caused tremendous economic turbulence and emphasized the need to scale both up and down, not to mention to redeploy resources quickly and frequently.

    Beyond traditional IT services, companies will look for more ways to transform traditionally fixed costs into variable expenses that preserve cash and reduce hassle. IoT-driven solutions such as Light-as-a-Service deliver operational and financial benefits by reducing capital expenses in favor of operating expenses, promoting agility and freeing up more cash.

    9. New connectivity options like 5G and LiFi will offer new capabilities (and pose new challenges)

    Connectivity also creates challenges for organizations marshaling their capital investment dollars for the years ahead. Amidst 2020's distractions, clarity failed to emerge about 5G's long-term potential and application—so much so that Forrester expects a year-over-year decline in 5G implementations. The emergence of competing technologies, such as satellite for long-haul communications and LiFi for local networking, also makes the immediate future of networking investments hazy. All of the options have strong potential for business in general and the IoT in particular, but in the absence of any clear front-runner the choices are difficult.
    Look for LiFi to gain traction in conjunction with 5G, providing high speed, low-latency communication in facilities where 5G radio signals may be characterized by poor coverage or be blocked entirely for interference or safety reasons.

    10. Indoor location data will become even more valuable

    The IoT excels at pinpointing the location and movement of small objects in a confined space, whether that's a shop floor or a warehouse. That capacity has been paying off during the pandemic. As organizations innovate new ways to safely move goods with fewer handling steps at the same time as they're using a wider range of delivery methods (think of the expansion of curbside pickup as well as of the growing networks of crowdsourced delivery fleets made up of independent contractors), indoor location data will be indispensable to running an efficient and trustworthy organization.

    And because indoor IoT-based navigation based on visible light communication is so accurate (usually within 30 cm, or 1 foot) it will grow as a method of in-store navigation to help retail customers find products and complete transactions faster. This gives supermarkets more freedom to experiment with merchandising and layout while helping customers find their old favorites more easily. In open-plan workspaces, visible light positioning can help improve productivity by ensuring that colleagues can find one another quickly, even when they lack a fixed workspace.

    11. Solar and hybrid luminaires will drive adoption of connected street lighting

    Connected lighting will come to more markets as solar and hybrid luminaires gain traction. Pure-solar luminaires, best suited for areas with consistent sunlight, can serve in a powerful smart city platform without the need for power cabling. Hybrid models use a combination of solar battery storage and power grid connectivity to reduce overall energy consumption without interruptions in service when seasonal dips or cloud cover impact solar collection. These carbon-friendly choices may prove decisive in convincing metros that are still seeking one final reason to buy into municipal IoT.

    About the author

    Jonathan Weinert, IoT and Connected Lighting, Signify
    Award-winning writer Jonathan Weinert has been been researching and reporting on LED lighting, connected lighting, and the IoT since joining Signify in 2008. 

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