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5 Internet of Things (IoT) Connectivity Challenges

Ben Obear
January 3, 2017

A lot of people still don't know what the Internet of Things (IoT) even is. However, the casual user probably remembers the practical examples in just how connected everything could be. An alarm clock goes off and it sets off your coffee maker, so you have the perfect cup waiting for you after your shower and before you hit the road. The technology was never meant to replace your routine, just make it a little bit easier by streamlining it all. It's all great in theory, but practice gets slightly more complicated. The IoT though is just getting started, and that can mean challenges throughout the process. Here are the top 5 to keep in mind, so you have a realistic view of IoT before you start forming your opinions about the capabilities.  

1. Power, Costs and Bandwidth

A device that's been tested in a controlled environment is pretty simple to function. There are devoted resources everywhere that are all meant to make everything run quickly and without disruption. When you start to expand the scale into the real world, developers and consumers alike start hitting problems they may not have even anticipated. One internet connection is not the same as another, and it comprises a number of components that are all subject to weather attacks, hackers and just plain failures. Power outages in one area mean trouble from locations miles away. When the IoT relies on a cellular network, the bandwidth becomes expensive and can often be taxed at a rate it can't handle. The servers we have right now can probably handle a lot of it, but not with the reliability needed to make it practical to a large audience. They will need to be changed so the computing power can actually transfer the data quickly across the different equipment in homes and businesses. CPU storage is unfortunately not unlimited, and IoT takes up a lot of it. There's so much communication happening that the drain on resources will be considerable for consumers as it is right now.

2. Data Streams

With the machinery involved, you'll need signals that go back and forth at a consistent rate. Information can't be funneled in just one direction, which means the data streams are subject to a variety of factors. The demands being placed on the network can become overwhelming quickly, and the potential for mistakes within the transferring is still quite high. Companies who specialize in the IoT are busy trying to figure out how to get millions of devices into the mainstream stretched out across data centers. Each device has its own requirements, which makes it quite a challenge. Some need to have a wide range of connectivity while others need to have direct access to the power supply. The research and development costs alone can be staggering when it comes to figuring out how to manage it all, and different tech companies are taking different approaches to find the most effective ones, which will take time to integrate and the prices will need to be passed to the consumer at first.

3. Hacking Threats

Criminals look for tiny cracks in security everywhere they go, and unfortunately, there are a lot of them — both physical and virtual. The code keeps being developed with fewer bugs, but it almost seems like hackers are just one step ahead. The IoT gives you the ability to automatically unlock a door the second you pull into the driveway with a huge pile of groceries in the backseat, but all thieves will see is the chance to get into your home if they can successfully hack your network. Security measures like authorization, encryption and ports all pose a challenge when it comes to the IoT. They're all necessary to provide any type of real security, but they're difficult to actually perform properly every single time. You need open connections or ports when it comes to communicating with different devices, but those connections can often let the wrong people in.

4. Implementing Detection

The IoT relies on speedy updates and practically instant communication. If a device goes off and comes back onto the network, then everyone needs to know. Even tiny disruptions pose real threats, and it can be difficult to ensure that you're finding out in real time what's really happening within the network itself. When there are so many types of devices themselves, the lack of consistency can make it difficult to get reliable information from each data source (and there are a lot of data sources you're working with here.) Standards for the equipment itself are all over the place, which can make it near impossible to try to wrangle them all into submission. If you can't monitor your devices, you'll never be able to know if there are problems within the network. It can mean that you'll be vulnerable for months without having any way to determine if there's a problem.

5. Consumer Demand

Consumers are used to having clear applications for their needs and the IoT is more of an exercise in sampling, so it can make meeting demand more difficult. When customers start seeing a number of choices and variance within the choices, the market may be limited to hardcore tech people only. Right now, many of these products are only being sold to niche audiences, meaning they tend to be fairly specific. Consumers get frustrated with changes after they've already spent time learning a specific way to get things done, and the IoT may prove to be too difficult to sell to the average person right now. The field itself remains wide open, and some envision that this will be a larger market than smartphones. The demand will likely be driven by one singular concept to get everyone's feet wet with the practical applications of this new technology.

Technology is adopted by people at different rates, and it can often take time for even the most innovative of products to catch on. In this case, there are not only problems presented within the industry itself, but also the marketing strategies that will actually bring this technology to an everyday audience. However, these five challenges do not mean that the IoT doesn't have some incredible potential. In the semiconductor field and cloud infrastructure is expected to get boosts from the IoT. We may see that the developments are simply more suited for industrial purposes than for the home market. Each company working on improving the connectivity takes one step closer to eventually hit upon a viable solution as well. It's definitely a sector worth keeping an eye on in the next few years.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco